Beryl Markham was born in England in 1902 and grew up in Nairobi, British East Africa. Beryl thrived in Africa under the tutelage of her horse trainer father; her mother returned to England after only one year in Africa.
Markham's autobiography, West with the Night, is a fascinating account of her childhood and young adulthood in British East Africa. It is curiously absent of any mention of Markham's personal life, her three marriages (to Alexander Laidlow “Jock” Purvis, Mansfield Markham, and Raoul Schumacher), many affairs, or three children. Instead it focuses on her successful negotiation of the male world of hunting, horse training, and aviation. The book is the focus of an authorial controversy stemming from rumors circulating at the time of its initial publication. According to Robert Viking O'Brien, Markham's third husband, Raoul Schumacher, said in 1943, “Beryl did not write West with the Night or any of the short stories. Not one damned word of anything!” Mary S. Lovell's Straight on Till Morning: The Biography of Beryl Markham refutes those early suggestions that Markham was not the author of her autobiography and, for a time, seemed to have settled the issue. However, in The Lives of Beryl Markham, biographer Errol Trzebinski asserts that Schumacher is the true author of the book. Concerns of authorship aside, the book nonetheless offers a portrait of a woman who dared to live a life unconfined by traditional gender roles. The book is a paean to Africa as well.
West with the Night is divided into four sections. Book One opens with the question, “How is it possible to bring order out of memory?” (3). Using the model of a pilot's log to generate her remembrances, Markham opens her story with an account of flying to Nungwe in 1935 to deliver a cylinder of oxygen to a dying gold miner. Markham is a freelance pilot and the “only professional woman pilot