Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Beryl Markham’s remarkable life should make for a wonderful historical novel, but I just don’t think this is it.  Abandoned by her mother as a child and married off at sixteen when her father’s Kenyan horse farm fell into financial ruin, Beryl did not have an easy start in life.  Financial difficulties forced her into some bad decisions, and I recognize that as a young woman in Africa who scorned education, her options were limited.  Since the author was also separated from her mother for most of her childhood, I expected a little more insight into how this abandonment affected Beryl’s early life, but I found the author’s treatment of this situation a little cavalier.  Maybe it’s a sore subject?  I also did not particularly like Beryl, who slept with her friend Karen Blixen’s boyfriend Denys and later risked her own life and that of her beloved horse Pegasus for an assignation that didn’t even pan out.  Karen Blixen went on to write Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast, both of which were adapted into movies, but I did not discover her literary identity until after I finished the book and did some Wikipedia investigating.  Anyway, let me get back to Beryl, who became an intrepid aviator and licensed horse trainer—both of which were difficult propositions for a woman anywhere, but especially for a woman in Africa in the early 1900s.  For those accomplishments, I certainly had to admire Beryl.  However, I do not particularly admire the author’s writing style.  The novel is full of Beryl’s ruminations on her purpose in life, and I found that most of these sections detracted from the story, rather than enhancing it.  Hemingway claimed to be very impressed with the writing style in Beryl’s own memoir but said that she seemed to be “very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch.”  I couldn’t agree more, and perhaps West with the Wind, in Beryl’s own voice, would be a better book club selection than this novel.

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