Nearly eight years ago, I read a book called "West With the Night," written by Beryl Markham. I included it among my favorite books of 2008 and said the following about it on my blog post:
West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. As I write this I am still a few pages short of completing this memoir by a remarkable English-born woman who grew up in and lived most of her life on the African continent, mainly Nairobi, Kenya. Markham, who was born in 1902 and died in 1986, first published this work, her only book, in 1942 and it was not well received. It was, however, re-published in 1982 after someone found an obscure review written by none other than Ernest Hemingway, in which he praised Markham’s prose and lamented the fact that he would never write as well as she. This has not been one of those “I can’t put this down” types of books for me. In fact, it is only about 300 pages long and it has taken me almost a month to read it. But I would not think of not completing it. As I read the story of this rogue farmer-turned-horse-trainer-turned-pilot, I am fully aware that I am reading beautifully written narrative that is totally worth the effort.
Fast forward to a month ago, when I picked up a paperback on Wife's bedside table called "Circling the Sun" by Paula McLain. McLain is the author of "The Paris Wife," a fictional account of the life of Hadley Richardson, who was Ernest Hemingway's first wife. Since I had thoroughly enjoyed that one, and noticed "Circling the Sun" was by the same author, I thought I would give it a try too.
I asked Wife about it and she said yes, it was definitely a good read. She said it was also historical fiction (like "The Paris Wife") and had references to the folks from "Out of Africa" -- a book I never read and a movie I never saw.
What she didn't tell me is it is written from the point of view of Beryl Markham, as if it were her autobiography.
While "West with the Night" was largely about Markham's unlikely and historic flight across the Atlantic, with references to her life in Africa as a farmer and horse trainer, "Circling the Sun" gives a detailed account of her life from childhood. She moved to Kenya from England as a young child with her parents, only to have her mother and brother return to England, after which she was raised by her father and a housekeeper who became the companion of her father.
As a child, she became close friends with a native Kenyan boy who was a member of one of the local tribes, and their friendship lasted her entire life.
She learned farming at a young age and became an expert and sought-after horse trainer. She had a series of disastrous relationships, including a marriage she spent years trying to get out of, and another one that was a marriage of convenience. She gave birth to a son who was essentially taken from her and raised by her boorish mother-in-law.
Her one true love (as one would believe from reading this book) was a safari hunter (from "Out of Africa") who would never make their relationship exclusive.
And she became a pilot and flew across the Atlantic.
There is much, much more, and this book filled in many of the blanks from "West With the Night." (And of course, after eight years, I had forgotten a lot).
Although it is fiction, I am confident in the author's extensive research on, as I wrote eight years ago, "this remarkable English-born woman."