Discussion Questions:


(source www.storycircle.org)

  1. Nowhere in the book is there much evidence of strong emotion on her part, even through there are some hair-raising episodes. What in her upbringing and background do you think led to this detached attitude?
  2. All through her story, Markham shows great empathy for animals. She even enters into the mind of the Royal Exile, Camciscan, telling of her conquest of him from his point of view. Do you find this an effective way to tell the story? To which animal does she show most affection or respect?
  3. Although she occasionally refers here and there in the narratives to her sadness at leaving Njoro, do we feel it in her descriptions of that leave-taking?
  4. In the chapter entitled, “Hodi,” we find her realistic view of the racial inequities of her time. Do you think if she had lived on into our era of “political correctness,” she would have been so apparently accepting of these divisions? Can you find anything in the book to substantiate your answer?
  5. What early incident foreshadows her later dedication to flying? Do you think it could be said to be passionate attachment? Why?
  6. Nowhere does she mention her mother or brother. What do we find out about her relationship with her father?
  7. At some point after its original publication, Markham’s detractors claimed that her 3rd husband, a Hollywood screenwriter (Raoul Schumacher) actually wrote or strongly assisted her writing this book. Her biographer, Mary Lovell, refutes this charge and Beryl herself “contemptuously dismissed” the rumor that she didn’t write the book herself This biography was started before Beryl Markham died in 1986, and contains quotes from personal interviews with Markham.
  8. Are the any references or allusions in the book itself that could be used as evidence of enough “book education” to refute the accusations that she did not write the story alone?
  9. When Beryl Markham opens her memoir, she is the only professional woman pilot in Africa, flying a mercy mission to deliver a canister of oxygen to a sick miner. How do her personal qualities make it possible for her to lay claim to such a distinction
  10. Markham comes to believe a statement made by her father about a lion, a statement that Beryl realizes applies to most animals: “You can always trust a lion to be exactly what he is – and never anything else.” How and why does she come to recognize the truth of his declaration?
  11. Markham witnesses many rituals and rites of passage as she grows up in Africa. How do they help shape her thinking and her values?
  12. How do Coquette and Pegasus showcase Markham’s relationship with her father and contribute to her education and her future
  13. Beryl Markham writes, “Somebody with a flair for small cynicism once said, ‘We live and do not learn.’ But I have learned some things” (131). How does Markham demonstrate the things she has learned?
  14. Markham relates in some detail how she uses her flying skills to aid hunters. How do you react to this part of her career?
  15. Markham endures many discomforts, hardships and dangers living in Africa, yet the beauty of Africa sustains her. Mark and react to lines that help you participate in her wonder and appreciation.
  16. As Markham closes her book and writes, “... the plane I stepped from was not the Gull, and for days while I was in New York I kept thinking about that and wishing over and over again that it had been the Gull, until the wish lost its significance...” she reveals, even in a moment of perceived failure, a secret to her success (291). How does her statement give the reader insight into the way she lived her remarkable life?

Authorship controversy

  1. Does it matter whether or not Beryl Markham wrote the book herself?

Reliability of narrator

  1. How honest do you think Markham is? How reliable is she, as a narrator?


  1. Did Markham’s gender limit her in any way?
  2. Markham shows no interest in women’s issues and does not seek to mentor other women. Can we consider her a feminist icon? Or is that expectation an unfair burden?


  1. In what ways does this book address issues of colonialism in Africa?
  2. Were there moments in the book where characters’ behavior and expressions of racial inequalities made you feel uncomfortable?


  1. When and how does Markham show a strong connection with another person?
  2. Markham doesn’t mention her mother, brother, husbands, or son in her book. Why? (And would we ask this question if she were a man?)
  3. Markham details several dramatic episodes that she experienced, but she conveys these stories without great emotion. Why do you think she is so detached? 
  4. If you think Markham had a detached, unemotional way of dealing with the world, how did that help and hurt her?

Structure and style

  1. This memoir is not arranged in strict chronological order. Why did you think Markham decided to tell her story in this way?
  2. Do you like the author’s writing style? If so, why does it appeal to you?
  3. Is West with the Night a good title for this book?