Release date: January 4, 2012
This new historical fiction title is inspired by the life of aviatrix Beryl Markham, the first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West (considered more challenging than flying East because of prevailing winds). Novelist Michaela Maccoll intersperses the story of Beryl's historic 1936 voyage with Beryl's life as a ten-year old growing up in what is now Kenya, where she lived with her English father on a horse ranch, her mother having abandoned them years before. Her life as a child is filled with endless adventures--attacks by leopards, forbidden treks into the forest with a boy from the local tribe, Kibbi, who becomes her friend and teaches her to wrestle and track and hunt animals. Indeed, she is virtually adopted by the native tribe who take her in as one of their own, allowing her to train to be a "warrior" despite her sex and accepting her as an honorary member of the Nandi tribe.
The novel jumps back and forth between the youthful Beryl's adventures both at home and later in boarding school and a variety of diary entries, fictitious press articles and interviews about her cross-Atlantic flight. I found the parts in Africa much more engaging and vivid than the snippets about her flight; the two themes don't really seem to be tied together, since we don't learn about the beginnings of her interests in flight in the sections in which Beryl is a child. However, Maccoll paints an appealing picture of an adventurous spirit who can't resist a dare, a girl who is more comfortable in boys' clothing and who longs to be a hunter of lions rather than a proper young English lady. It's a good choice for those looking for a colorful adventure story that could appeal to girls as well as boys.
Those interested in learning more about the real Beryl can check out her memoir, West With the Night (North Point Press, 1982), which was praised by none other than Ernest Hemingway, who remarked about Markham's writing, "she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers,"
or the young adult biography Beryl Markham: Never Turn Back, by Catherine Gourley (Red Wheel, 1997).
In addition, Maccoll includes an author's note providing further details on the real Beryl's life as well as additional suggestions for further reading.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.