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Book Note: Beryl Markham, West With the Night

I read this book about 15-Feb-2002. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1942. This note was last modified Friday, 28-Nov-2003 17:14:32 PST.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.


I'm actually listening to this, not reading it. And I'm only listening in the car, mostly when driving to and from Northfield, so it's taking quite a while. In fact, 5 months.

It was advertised to me essentially as a flying book. Beryl Markham was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, and was involved in African "bush flying" very early. The cover picture shows her in a flying helmet with goggles, and the picture on the back shows her plane crashed nose to the ground. And as a flying book I'm finding it deeply disappointing.

It's an interesting Africa book. She was on good enough terms with the local tribes to go hunting with their young-men-in-training, and stayed on close personal terms with some of them through her life. She was also involved with the European life in Africa going all the way back to WWI; farming, hunting, trying to find markets and products and customers.

She and her father were both involved with raising and training horses, and she had some notable successes in that area—mostly before her 18th birthday. In some ways it's a horse book.

And there is a fair amount of flying in it, one way and another. But somehow it just doesn't come through as a flying book to me. Flying may have been important to her—must have been, in fact. But I can't find it in the book. She cares deeply about her friends and about her horses, but I can't find that affection for the machines and the flying.

There's one section, about 15 minutes on the tape, somewhere in the last third, that was really excellent, though. When she really got going on scouting elephants from the air, and presented her theories and evidence on just how intelligent elephants are (very; human-level). That section is fast-moving, thrilling, involving.

It's superbly read by Julie Harris; much of the tolerance I had for the book can, I think, be attributed to her excellent work.

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David Dyer-Bennet