Ali Baker 5 December 2011 - 2:52pm
Captivating and informative, this novel based on twentieth century heroine Beryl Markham will capture children's imaginations.
As I child, I had a book about tales of heroic women: Grace Darling; Florence Nightingale; Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from the Hebrides; and Beryl Markham, the first female commercial pilot in Kenya and the first aviator to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic.
This wonderful novel is the story of Beryl’s childhood in British East Africa, now Kenya, interspersed with accounts of the flight across the Atlantic and fictionalised interviews with reporters. The novel opens in 1912, when Beryl Clutterbuck is living on a horse farm in Kenya with her father. In the opening scene we learn about the beauty and the danger of Kenya, such as one evening when a leopard comes into Beryl’s hut and takes her dog, Buller. But Beryl is brave, willful and strong: she tracks the leopard into the forest, makes friends with Kibii, a boy from the local Nandi tribe, and with his help rescues Buller.
After this event, Beryl makes friends with the Nandi village, learning to hunt, wrestle and jump the height of her head. In return, she teaches Kibii to ride. But this life is far from idyllic, and the reader is made aware that Beryl’s unconventional upbringing, while equipping her for her future life as racehorse trainer and aviator, puts her at odds with white Kenyan society.
What made Promise the Night very different from the story of Beryl’s life that I read as a 9-year-old is the inclusion of details of her Nandi friends. MacColl notes that there is far more research about the Masai than the Nandi, so she often used Masai tribal customs - and Beryl herself often called the Nandi Masai.
This is a fantastic read for lovers of adventurous stories, 9+.