West with the Night belongs to a small body of literature produced by writers who knew at first hand the rugged beauty, the solitude, the color, the challenges, and the dangers that East Africa offered to its settlers and visitors during the early part of the twentieth century. The most notable of these writers are Elspeth Huxley, the author of The Flame Trees of Thika (1974) and Out in the Midday Sun: My Kenya (1985); Isak Dinesen, who reminisced about her experiences on a coffee plantation in Den afrikanske farm (1937; Out of Africa, 1937) and Skygger p graesset (1960; Shadows on the Grass, 1960); and Ernest Hemingway, who used East Africa as the setting for The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1961) and Green Hills of Africa (1935) as well as for several of his short stories.
The Africa of Hemingway, Dinesen, and Markham no longer exists. The wild game that Hemingway’s characters hunted is now confined to preserves, white colonial settlers such as Dinesen are no longer welcome, and the magnificent forests that Markham remembers are now largely destroyed. All these writers were aware of the changes that were taking place, even as they were writing. In West with the Night, Markham notes, “Africa is never the same to anyone who leaves it and returns again.”
Yet if the farmers, hunters, fliers, and opportunists who came to East Africa altered the landscape, the...
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