Monday, July 27, 2015

Circling the Sun

Title:  Circling the Sun
Author:  Paula McLain
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2015. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0345534182 / 978-0345534187

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I've known, and somehow mine to fly."

Favorite Quote:  "'I think I'd always been looking for an escape route.'
'Escape from what?'
'I don't know. Any tight-fitting definition of what a life should be, I suppose. Or what I should be in it.'"

Beryl Markham was an unconventional woman, especially for the times in which she lived. Racehorse trainer. Adventurer. Bush pilot. Pioneer. Author. First woman to fly across the Atlantic from east to west in a solo flight. (The east to west is significant for that direction is considered to be much harder for the pilot flies against the currents.) These are some of the epithets that can be applied to her.

The content of this book has been compared to West with the Night, Beryl Markham's own memoir published in 1942 and the 1937 book Out of Africa written by Karen Blixen under her pen name Isak Dineson. The first I have not read and the second I read too long ago to offer a comparison. I do know that the main characters of Out of Africa, Karen Blixen and her lover Denys Finch Hatton, are both key characters in Circling the Sun. However, both West with the Night and Out of Africa are personal accounts of a period in each author's life. Circling the Sun is a work of historical fiction as was The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Read the book with that fact in mind for Beryl Markham's life does make for a great story.

The story focuses on two facets of Beryl Markham's life - her adventurous pursuits and her many relationships. Her adventures began early. Although born in England, Beryl moves to Kenya at a very young age with her parents. Beryl's life is forever altered when her mother deserted her at a very young age to return to England. Her childhood is spent surrounded by her father's love, his horse farm, and the native community who took to caring for the motherless girl. The book tells the stories of horse riding, lion attacks, hunting, and many other adventures. The ups and downs of life lead to Beryl reinventing herself many times over in her life, from farm owner to pauper to the companion of a rich man to a renowned horse trainer in her own right to bush pilot.

All along the way come relationships - a childhood friendship, marriages, love affairs, commitments of convenience, an abortion, and a child. Some are notorious, some shocking, and some just sad. Many become a means to an end - respectability, security, and a chance to pursue her adventures. For the most part, it is these relationships that become the focus of this book. More time is spent on the emotional ups and downs rather than the adventure story of Beryl Markham's life, which to me is the more interesting story.

Underlying her entire life, of course, is the story of Kenya, of Africa. Unfortunately, this book does not delve deeply into Africa - its beauty or its history. The characters of these settlers to Africa come alive in this book; the place unfortunately does not. The setting is there, but the focus of the book is clearly the characters and the emotional plot line.

Paula McLain has penned another wonderful description of a historical figure. Wonder whose life she will attempt next?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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