Beryl Markham was Africa’s first licensed female pilot, and the first pilot of either gender to fly solo, east to west, across the North Atlantic. As if all that wasn’t accomplishment enough, the woman could write.
West With the Night is a memoir of her time spent flying out of Nairobi, landing on makeshift airstrips at hunting camps and threadbare mining settlements across eastern and central Africa, flying over the wild herds of the Serengeti, and of her later record-setting air exploits. It’s also the story of Markham’s rural Kenyan childhood, complete with a mauling by a half-tamed lion. Most of all, though, it’s about the experience of solitary bush flight itself. “To fly in unbroken darkness without even the cold companionship of a pair of ear-phones or the knowledge that somewhere ahead are lights and life and a well-marked airport is something more than just lonely,” Markham writes. “It is at times unreal to the point where the existence of other people seems not even a reasonable probability. The hills, the forests, the rocks, and the plains are one with the darkness, and the darkness is infinite. The earth is no more your planet than is a distant star.”