“I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know-that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it. These I learned at once. But most things came harder.”
-Beryl Marham, West with the Night
I wanted to include the quote used in the beginning of this story because I feel it sums up nicely who Beryl Markham was and what the underlining theme was throughout this book.
Markham was quite the woman. She was obstinate to norms, hungry for adventure, self-absorbed, vulnerable and yet guarded.
I read in a review that this book “does not pass the Bechdel test” and had to look it up. According to Wikipedia, “The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.” While the review was excellent, I wish I didn’t read it because then I started seeing proof throughout the book. And then I reminded myself that this was early 1900s Africa, before Kenya was Kenya, and women were trying to make their mark among a sea of men. Some wanted a relationship and to settle down and some wanted more. A lot more. It pained me that many women had to depend on men for income and a place in society, but that was the time and instead, focused on her tenacity and humanness. Otherwise I would’ve chucked the book several times.
Yes, Markham and Blixen’s pining over Denys Finch Hatton got on my nerves at times (he must have been quite the specimen) but I think aside from the “will he choose me?” dialogue, Markham’s fictionalized story is a great testament to fight for what you want. Women CAN be many sides: romantic, soft and affectionate while being tough as hell, playing with boys in the bush, wearing pants and getting dirty. She was the first licensed female horse trainer of her time AND the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Her friendship with Kibii, a little boy from one of the the Kipsigis families nearby, was my favorite part of the entire book.
Historical Fiction is a tough one for me because I start looking up everything about the person and wonder how much is fact and how much is fiction. But when it works, it sweeps me off my feet to another time and another place, which is what I desperately needed in my reading last month. Think I’ll go and rewatch Out Of Africa. Her “cameo” in the movie is named Felicity and a very small part.
My library copy of Circling the Sun by Paula McLain is 384 pages and published by Ballantine Books. I listened to this book mostly on audio and the narrator, was wonderful.