Title: Circling the Sun Author: Paula McLain Published: July 28th 2015 by Ballantine Books Format: eBook; Hardcover, 384 pages Genre: Historical Fiction Source: My thanks to Netgalley and Random House - Ballantine for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.
Years ago, I read West with the Night by Beryl Markham and the feel of it has always stuck with me. I could not quote specific parts of the book just that it was a remarkable read and both the feel and the woman have stayed with me.
After bringing Ernest and Hadley Hemingway to life in The Paris Wife, I could not wait to see what Paula McLain could do with Beryl. A woman most notably known as the first woman to fly a solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic from east to west in 1936. There is so much more to this woman. Beginning with the fact that her mother abandoned her when she was just four years old only to return sixteen years later assuming that her daughter would take care of her and ending in her final years in her beloved Kenya.
Growing up an ex-pat in colonial Kenya in the early 1900’s on her father’s horse farm in the Rift Valley, 100 miles north of Nairobi, taught Beryl about the people and the place that she would always call home. It taught her courage and strength and to know that she was her own person. She never limited herself by thinking that a woman could not do something; she just had to find her own way and prove that it could be done and that she was the best choice. Whether that be the first certified female horse trainer at the age of 18 in Africa or a record breaking aviatrix – she was a feminist before the word was even invented.
There was a rivalry with Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, the author of Out of Africa, when it came to Denys Finch Hatton. The ex-pat community was small and insular so affairs and rumors were part of everyday life. Unfortunately for Beryl, people were more interested in her personal life than her public accomplishments. There were husbands, there were affairs, but that should never undermine her achievements as an individual.
Beryl Markham never fit into the world that was designed for the women of her time. She was too determined and too unwilling to be held back by the limitations of her class or gender. She was a fascinating woman growing up in a fascination time that she was determined to make all her own. Paula McClain brought Beryl alive a second time for me showing once again the courage a woman can have when the other options do not feel right.