Should Your Book Club Read West With the Night by Beryl Markham?

How long have I had this book on my TBR shelf, and who gave it to me?  I have a vague recollection of someone in my graduate program handing it to me saying she had more copies at home, and that everyone should read this book.  Ernest Hemingway would agree, evidently.  He wrote to Maxwell Perkins that Beryl Markham could “write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers” and implored Perkins to get the book and read it because “it is really a bloody wonderful book.”

I thoroughly agree with Mr. Hemingway.

This bloody wonderful book is not so much a story as a collection of vignettes; it is Beryl Markham’s (Beru to the indigenous Africans) memoir about growing up in Kenya when it was still British East Africa.  What I love about the book is…everything.  So, should your book club read it?  I don’t know.  I don’t feel like I need to discuss it with anyone, yet I do feel that it will be a book I return to again and again to experience it as much as possible.  I wonder if the fact that it is a memoir, a genre I don’t read often, makes me feel like I just enjoyed a journey with someone (the author) and therefore don’t feel the need to discuss it with others.  Hmm, I don’t know; I’ll have to give that some thought.

I do highly, highly recommend the book–five stars without a doubt–so read it on your own or with others, if you choose.  If you are an aspiring writer, you should run to your nearest book store to get this book.  Then you should read it out loud so that the language–clay in the hands of the master sculptress Markham–makes a lasting impression on you.

The setting is so vivid, you will feel like you are in Africa, and Markham’s evident love and respect for that country gives it a quality that brings it to life in a lovely way.  Her descriptions will make you want to go there to see the places that she played in as a child and worked in as an adult  For example, Lake Nakuru with its throngs of pink flamingos.  I never do this, but I was so intrigued by Markham’s description of that place, I “google imaged” it.  Check it out:

And what a adventurous childhood Markham had!  From encounters with lions to wild boar hunting with native friends, Markham recounts her tales with just the right amount of suspense and intrigue.  Talk about intrepid–this is not your everyday little league upbringing.  I am amazed Markham survived some of her adventures!

When she starts to fly over the bush to track elephants for wealthy tourists who want to shoot them, one realizes that this is, indeed, a life lived in a different era.  Colonialism, WWII looming, the frontiers of the skies to be conquered…Markham just touches on the rich history of the geo-politics of Africa at this time.

What Markham does not cover in the memoir is her personal life.  I was surprised when I googled her to find out that she was married three times, and allegedly had romantic involvement with some of the characters in her tale.  Hmm, interesting what she decided to leave out of the memoir.

Bottom line:  if you liked Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, another wonderful memoir by Alexandra Fuller, I think you will like this book.  And if you haven’t read Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, you really should!

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