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West with the Night Paperback – January 22, 2013
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There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo.Born in England in 1902, Markham was taken by her father to East Africa in 1906. She spent her childhood playing with native Maruni children and apprenticing with her father as a trainer and breeder of racehorses. In the 1930s, she became an African bush pilot, and in September 1936, became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
This is NOT a memoir; more a series of vignettes that Markham put together from her memory which she announces from the beginning that is extremely hard to recover accurately. Reprinted when she was in her 80s, it became a best seller. The original printing was received well, but not nearly so well as when she was rediscovered. It didn't help that many believe she was not the "real" author; she never wrote anything else that came close to the beautiful prose exhibited here.
Praised by Hemingway, who evidently envied her writing skills, fame faded away from this woman whose personality was forbidding (except for her lovers, one presumes) and enigmatic. Not one word about her somewhat unconventional life is present in this volume, but her deep and abiding love for Africa is evident throughout. Worth reading for its use of language and evocative images, don't look for her to reveal the private details of a life that must have been fascinating.
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.
I am not a big fan of the memoir, but Markham's (or whoever wrote it) voice is neither bombastic nor humble; she feels less a narrator or subject than a fellow traveller, along with you for the ride. Although the life she lived was extraordinary and compelling, she refreshingly views it in clipped, casual, careful terms, as unimpressed with herself as if she'd been a midwestern housewife, not a pilot and horse trainer in Colonial Africa.
Many readers will approach "West with the Night" out of a pre-existing interest in and knowledge of its era and characters, and will no doubt experience it entirely differently than I did. While a few names rang vague bells, for the most it was an engaging introduction. But I read it as literature, not as history, and enjoyed it immensely as such. I found her small personal anecdotes far more interesting than the accounts of her grand feats. The Atlantic flight that made her famous rounds out the end of the book, but is rather dry and dull compared to her African tales. Stories such as her father's pompous parrot had me in spasms of public giggles.
It is little wonder that Hemmingway praised this book, as the sparse directness of its utilitarian prose makes even the Old Man of the Sea seem a flowery romantic. Its structure can be rather meandering, but in that regard it resembles the contours of memory, which makes me believe Markham did indeed write her own book.