THE LIVES OF BERYL MARKHAM by Errol Trzebinski (Norton: $27.50; 416 pp.) Soon to be a major motion picture: not Errol Trzebinski’s book, but Beryl Markham’s book, “West With the Night"--which Markham didn’t write, according to Trzebinski. He contends that Markham’s book was ghosted by then-husband Raoul Schumacher, a ghostwriter by trade. The remarkable Markham could do a lot of things--train champion horses, fly solo across the Atlantic the hard way in 1936, roam the African bush alone, seduce (Lord, could she seduce!)--but she couldn’t write. Neither can Trzebinski, at least not terribly well. In a herky-jerky biography sloppily written, crammed with people only the Kenya colony would know (except Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen and Denys Finch Hatton) and speckled with random commas, Trzebinski attempts to get a grip on Markham. Others have tried, and failed, and Trzebinski admittedly does better than most and gets points for even trying.
Markham was one of the most inscrutable women of our time. Raised with benign neglect by a father too busy for hugs (mother long since split; spooked by Africa), Markham spent her youth with--almost in--the local tribe. Transplanted to Nairobi’s European colony in her teens, she was indeed of two worlds: surpassingly stoic, as the Africans are; rude, as they are not; unlettered, self-centered, independent, physically powerful and by all accounts a major beauty. Along with countless sexual conquests (from the Duke of Windsor to her buddies in the bush), she stalked Finch Hatton, the last Great White Hunter, winning him from Dinesen (whom Trzebinski describes as dumpy and possessive). Legendary lover, legendary libber, legendary flier--as written, by somebody , in “West With the Night.” Catch the movie.