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 A biography that reluctantly digs the dirt--and there's an awful lot of it--on famed Kenyan-born aviatrix Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly the Atlantic and once the presumed author of the bestselling West with the Night. Long-time Kenya resident Trzebinski (The Kenya Pioneers, 1986; Silence will Speak, 1978), who knew Markham, draws on letters, diaries, and copious interviews to tell his subject's story. Throughout, we're reminded of Markham's difficult childhood: Abandoned by her wealthy English mother at age two, young Beryl was left to be raised by her father, his mistress, and the Africans on their farm. Markham received little formal education and even fewer notions of conventional piety and morality, but her father did teach her to ride and train horses, a skill that would provide her with a living throughout her life. But despite Trzebinski's patronizing plea that Markham's behavior was affected by her being more African than European, the aviatrix proved to be single-minded and often cruel in pursuit of what she wanted. She abandoned three husbands, one son, and numerous lovers (the Prince of Wales and his younger brother each became her lover while visiting Kenya); she betrayed friends like Karen Blixen, whose great love, Denys Finch Hatton, she seduced behind Blixen's back; and she never admitted that her third husband, Hollywood screenwriter Raoul Schumacher, wrote West with the Night. Trzebinski's evidence for all this is well documented and very persuasive--but to balance the heavy indictment, the author also emphasizes Markham's great courage, beauty, and charm. All the seamy settler shenanigans of life in Kenyan highlands are reprised in this gossipy, exhaustively researched Beryl Dearest. Another cult figure bites the dust. (Photos)

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03556-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993