Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Review: West with the Night by Beryl Markham

I love to read. I spend more time reading than writing. I read good books and I read moderately good books. Books that don’t grab me in the first thirty pages goes into the trash before I reach page thirty-one. Every once in a while, a really great book comes along, and I have a love affair with it. I assume that most readers are like me in his regard.

A couple of weeks ago, I began reading West with the Night by Beryl Markham. It is autobiographical. Beryl was the first woman commercial pilot in Africa, back in the 1930s and ‘40s. She describes her childhood growing up on a farm in Africa, and also about learning to fly and becoming a successful commercial aviator. Towards the end of the book, she describes her history-making flight over the Atlantic, flying from Ireland to Canada.

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. Her prose is awe-inspiring. I found myself rereading paragraphs, even whole pages two and three times because of the fastidious beauty of the prose. It's why it took me so long to read it. I didn't want to rush through. I wanted to savor it, to wallow in her lovely phrases and thoughtful insights.

But of course, it is more than lovely-formed sentences on the page. The author knows too well how to draw the reader into a scene, build the suspense, and throw in some well-timed humor. These stories are fascinating, and inspiring. Imagine a young girl growing up in the company of natives, hunting wild game with a spear. Picture this same girl as a teenager learning to train race horses, and becoming a top-notch trainer. Envision her abandoning her career with horses for an overwhelming love of flying.

This author is not only an exceptionally gifted writer, she is a woman who has lived an enthralling life. And the gift that she brings to the page is the ability to pull the reader into the scene. I felt the wind on my face, smelled the campfire smoke, heard elephants trumpeting in the distance.

Yes, this is a book I love, and I will return to it over and over again. I can highly recommend that you do the same.

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