Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Deep South with the Author --- Day 4/139

Walk: Van Ness, Laurel
Distance: 4.2 miles, home yoga

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Ciwt finally got around to opening Beryl Markham's West with the Night, and she was quite blown away by the strength of the writing.  Powerful, confident, a bit masculine, gorgeously descriptive, wise, knowing.  Shockingly lyrical and beautiful - especially for a girl raised in Africa from age four who attended at most  three years of school (which she detested) , spent her motherless (she returned to England almost immediately) childhood freely playing and hunting in the bush with the native African boys on her father's (failed) plantation, riding and training horses.

Then Ciwt came to the following description of her father's horse, Balmy: She lived and won races some time before the Noel Coward jargon became commonplace, but, had she made her debut on Park Avenue in the middle thirties instead of on the race-course at Nairobi in the middle twenties she would have been counted as one of those intellectually irresponsible individuals always referred to as being 'delightfully mad.'

Huh?  Pretty urbane and New York sophisticated stuff for a wildly self-centered, essentially illiterate Kenyan girl.  The description continues along these Thin Man lines: No well-brought-up filly, for instance, while being exercised before the critical watchfulness of her owner, her trainer and a half-dozen members of the Jockey Club..Again, huh? Why would this free-spirited, brazen, iconoclastic bush pilot be referring so knowingly to that venerable New York institution?

It began not computing for Ciwt: Markham's character (she was internationally known to be beyond unpleasant, she stole short stories (and a few silk shirts) from an African writer for whom she did typing and tried to pass them off as her own, her feats of superb horse training may have been due to her use of drugs - just for openers); her disdain for classic education and book learning in the face of the patience, dedication and discipline necessary to craft an excellent book, her restlessness and relentless activity (she was the firs to solo across the Atlantic against the prevailing winds).

What did compute for Ciwt was that Beryl Markham was not the author of 'her' book.  With a bit more research, she learned there are many who agree with Ciwt and the authorship of West with the Night is highly controversial.  Strong, lyrical, sophisticated, a romantic portrait of a virtually mythical Kenya created and promoted by the small cadre of Northern European white settlers.  A beautifully told book, a deservedly admired, recommended and beloved classic, but - Ciwt now believes - most likely not written by Beryl MarkhamImage result for west with the night

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