Micato Musings


Posts Tagged ‘west with the night’

Why Africa Packs Appeal for Writers

  • March 1st 2012

Why does Africa pack such appeal for writers?  Perhaps it’s the wealth of the region, its surface thick with fantastic plants and animals, its underbelly crusted in jewels. Maybe it’s because the continent is the cradle of mankind and as such, perpetually nurtures us.

For Micato, the writerly appeal comes from the simple expanse of it all. Africa is a land where it is easy to get lost, in the best sense of the word. In the bush, disconnected from the noise of everyday life, much about the self is cherished, and discovered, and rediscovered.

And this was the appeal for two of our favourite explorers and memoirists as well: Beryl Markham and Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway: “This Girl Can Write Rings Around All of Us”

Africa for Markham was home. It was the place where she learned to train horses and fly planes; where she fell in love and married not once but three times; and where she faced almost certain death more times than she could count. It was in Africa that she befriended legendary authors such as Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince), and it was where she became an author of some renown herself, with her startlingly fresh and gripping memoir, West with the Night.

This memoir was admired by none other than Hemingway himself, who wrote:

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night? …She has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl… can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers… it really is a bloody wonderful book.”

Who Loves Africa More?

Hemingway’s own African explorations were characterized by a gruff machismo that serves as a counterweight to Markham’s wry humour and exuberance. In the autobiographical Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway, in his trademark serious, short prose, recounts days of hunting elusive kudu in the bush. And because he is there for only for a short time, he yearns to stay:

“All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa.  We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.” —Green Hills of Africa

Markham, on the other hand, grew up in Kenya from the age of four, and loves Africa in a steadier, less yearning way. In West with the Night, she writes:

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home.”

Views on Hunting

The writer’s thoughts on hunting were also vastly different. For Hemingway, hunting was his sport of choice and a source of pure poetry. For Markham, it was a source of money and the object of some derision.

Markham spent many years of her life piloting hunters high above the countryside, spotting elephants and making impromptu landings. Flying was her passion, and hunting was a funny thing that men did:

“I suppose if there were a part of the world in which mastodon still lived, somebody would design a new gun, and men, in their eternal impudence, would hunt mastodon as they now hunt elephant… At least David and Goliath were of the same species, but, to an elephant, a man can only be a midge with a deathly sting.”—West with the Night

Between Markham’s irreverence and Hemingway’s solemnity, we have a full picture of the glory that is—and has always been—the wilds of Africa. The savannahs, bushveldt, deserts and beaches invite wanderers and dreamers. The people, the animals, the landscape… The very air in Africa has an unparalleled richness and freshness. This land sparked two of the best memoirs the world has ever seen, and we feel quite sure that there are more and better yet to come. Could yours be one? Join us in Micato’s Africa and find out…