176 of 182 people found the following review helpful
The Divided Heart,
This review is from: West with the Night (Paperback)
No less a writer than Ernest Hemingway said about West with the Night, "As it is she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pigpen. But she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers." Coming from an author who was renowned for his ego and lack of respect for other writers, this is high praise indeed, and West with the Night deserves it.
The story opens with the author being called in the middle of the night to deliver a tank of oxygen to a dying man. The reason she has been called is because her business is flying a small bi-plane through the wilds of Africa on delivery errands such as these. The flight and subsequent visit with the dying man and his doctor are used to introduce us to Africa - the rich black nights, the stories of her native peoples, the harsh reminder with the appearance of a jackal that "...in Africa there is never any waste."
In this first section we also begin to know and wonder about the author, a native of Britain who was transplanted to African soil at the age of 2 and raised by her father on his farm at Njoro. There her primary playmates were the children of the Nandi Murani tribe and her principle schoolroom the African landscape itself. As Markham puts it, "Africa was the breath and life of my childhood. It is still the host of all my darkest fears, the cradle of mysteries always intriguing, but never wholly solved. It is the remembrance of sunlight and green hills, cool water and the yellow warmth of bright mornings. It is as ruthless as any sea, more uncompromising than its own deserts. It is without temperance in its harshness or in its favors. It yields nothing, offering much to men of all races."
It is Markham's misfortune, but also her gift, that she could never be fully assimilated by the native people and the landscape. Her father insisted on sending her to school, relatives and friends did their best to expose her to European culture, and in the end Africa itself conspired to force her out of the fold and into the larger world. The end result is a woman who walks a fine and complex line within herself between two radically different perceptions of the world.
Although Markham's story is remarkable based on facts alone - taking us from her childhood haunts to her historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean - it is the elegance and depth of the writing that sets this book apart. When she talks about the horses she and her father bred and raised, for example, it's as if she is stepping into the animals' skins. When she discusses her hunt for a fellow pilot, lost in the bush, it is with total absorption in the moment. This is the kind of book that can make you forget you are reading a book, drawing you into the subtleties of life as Markham knew it - engaging all the senses and ultimately your heart as well.
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Initial post: Jul 30, 2013 10:44:41 AM PDT
Jan Wolter says:
Hmm... the last sentence of your Hemingway quote is different from the one I've seen, which says "But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers ... it really is a bloody wonderful book." Personally, given that this is Hemingway talking, I'd take omitted slanders and "colorful" language as the highest compliments in a very complimentary quote.
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