Being an English teacher means you love to read. This summer I have been gobbling up memoirs written by women. I’ll be reviewing these memiors from time to time. I’ll start with my runaway favorite.

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

We love Amelia Earhart because she was the All-American girl who just happened to be a badass pilot. As the 70th anniversary of her disappearance passes us, may I recommend the story of another badass female pilot and aviation pioneer: Beryl Markham. Ms. Markham was a British subject raised in Kenya. Raised on a horse ranch and coffee farm by her father, she grew up hunting, raising horses, and fending off lion attacks.

When financial difficulties force her father to abandon his farm, teenage Beryl turns to raising champion racehorses. She moves from ground to air when she meets Tom Campbell Black, her future instructor and mentor. Much of the book follows her adventures as a bush pilot, especially for elephant hunters.

The book’s most harrowing tales enumerate her difficulties when flying from Kenya to England. She runs into bureacratic trouble in northern Africa with Mussolini’s men and then crosses the Mediterranean in a storm and with few instruments. She is more scared at this moment than she had been when landing at night in Africa or being half-eaten by a lion. Markham’s adventurous spirit belies her modesty. She is concerned only with survival, never heroics.

Her writing is fluid without being flowery and her reflections deep without being sentimental. Even Ernest Hemingway admitted to Maxwell Perkins, “this girl…can write rings around all of us.”

The book’s title, West with the Night, comes from her signature solo flight across the Atlantic, from east to west. Her engine fails off the coast of northeastern Canada, and she crash-lands into a peat bog in Nova Scotia. Because her destination was New York, she considered the flight a bit of a failure. Imagine.

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