The next book on my list to read was West With the Night by Beryl Markham. I discovered the book at the local used bookstore because I spotted Ernest Hemingway's stunning accolade on the back cover. Markham's book made Hemingway feel "completely ashamed of myself as a writer." He said Markham "can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers." That's high praise from a man who won the Nobel Prize for Literature during his lifetime.
"There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo."
She concludes, "The silence that belonged to the slender little craft was, I thought, filled with malice -- a silence holding the spirit of wanton mischief, like the quiet smile of a vain woman exultant over a petty and vicious triumph. I had expected little else of the Klemm (the airplane), frivolous and inconstant as she was, but I knew suddenly that Woody was not dead. It was not that kind of silence."
What a passage! She can say such things because we know that Markham is intimately familiar with silence, and with what death feels and even smells like. She has faced a multitude of fears. I know the thinking, the feeling, she's processing as she walks around that plane. I've thought thoughts like those. A man's life has never depended on it.
How many times have I told my students never to being a sentence with the most boring subject/verb combination: "There are"? Yet, she does it repeatedly, to wonderful effect. Hers is a perfect example of how a master may break the rules as he chooses, because he can so easily keep them, or break them, according to his plan.
goes for about $4500. Not bad, Beryl!