West with the Night
A new edition of a great, underappreciated classic of our time
Beryl Markham's West with the Night is a true classic, a book that deserves the same acclaim and readership as the work of her contemporaries Ernest Hemingway, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Isak Dinesen.
If the first responsibility of a memoirist is to lead a life worth writing about, Markham succeeded beyond all measure. Born Beryl Clutterbuck in the middle of England, she and her father moved to Kenya when she was a girl, and she grew up with a zebra for a pet; horses for friends; baboons, lions, and gazelles for neighbors. She made money by scouting elephants from a tiny plane. And she would spend most of the rest of her life in East Africa as an adventurer, a racehorse trainer, and an aviatrix―she became the first person to fly nonstop from Europe to America, the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic. Hers was indisputably a life full of adventure and beauty.
And then there is the writing. When Hemingway read Markham's book, he wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins: "She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [She] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers . . . It is really a bloody wonderful book."
With a new introduction by Sara Wheeler―one of Markham's few legitimate literary heirs―West with the Night should once again take its place as one of the world's great adventure stories.
faced what to her must have been even harder tasks with perhaps less will than patience, less aptitude than loyalty to her husband’s ambitions; and if Delamere was the champion of the East African settler (as indeed he was), then the devotion and comradeship of his wife were as responsible for his many victories as his own genius. So the two homesteads at Njoro — Delamere’s and my father’s — while their huts were not within sight of each other, stood shoulder to shoulder under the dark brow of
valley. There were no clouds and the sun started down on the plain making heat waves rise from it like flames without colour. The Equator runs close to the Rongai Valley, and, even at so high an altitude as this we hunted in, the belly of the earth was hot as live ash under our feet. Except for an occasional gust of fretful wind that flattened the high, corn-like grass, nothing uttered — nothing in the valley stirred. The chirrup-like drone of grasshoppers was dead, birds left the sky unmarked.
approval, then turns, shouldering a path to less austere and more familiar levels. There are farms — and farmers scattered like the builders of a new land, each hugging to himself all that spreads from the door of his hut to the horizon he marks with a sweep of his arm. Yes, this too is Africa. I dismount, slip the bit out of Pegasus’ mouth and let him drink from a stream that rolls from nowhere, washing rocks immaculate for ages — rounded rocks, sleek with the wear of water. He paws at them,
land in it and walk away. Only not fast, nor far. Rest for a moment; take your time. There are no lion to speak of, and few, if any leopard. There is only the Siafu ant. What eulogies have been written about the ant! ‘Sturdy fellow, honest fellow, thrifty fellow!’ I would not wish, even upon a misguided entomologist, no matter what his extra-academic sins might be, a single night in company with Siafu ants. The Siafu is sturdy enough, God knows, but he is neither honest nor thrifty — he is a
the fortune either; he was back there under the shadow of the half-built Sphinx, making marks in the selfsame sand. When we left him, the polished stick had disappeared and a pencil had taken its place. Abdullah Ali too had disappeared — or was at least transformed. That thin Egyptian with the grey suit and red fez, stooping as he walked through the door of the shed, was only a customs man. ‘Do you believe him?’ said Blix. A taxicab had scurried across the airport to take us to Shepheard’s