Monday, July 27, 2015

Release Day Review: "Circling the Sun" by Paula McLain

"Circling the Sun" by Paula McLain
First published in 2015 (it comes out today, July 28!)
384 pages
4.5 stars

Image from Goodreads
*I received a free advance-read copy of this book from NetGalley for review.

The Short Of It:
There's only one way to describe Beryl Markham: extraordinary. And Paula McLain does a wonderful job of bringing Beryl to life for us. A great read, and a must for anyone who enjoyed "The Paris Wife."

The Long Of It:
Striking to look at, courageous of heart, and full of gumption and gusto, racehorse trainer and aviator Beryl Markham shines in Paula McLain's latest based-in-fact novel.

Beryl was born in England in 1902 but spent most of her childhood on her father's horse farm in Kenya. Her days were full of adventure and exploration involving lions, bush pigs and warrior games with her best friend, a local boy named Kibii. Young Beryl was wild and unkempt -- but utterly, joyously free from high society's ideas about what a little girl should be. As a result, Beryl bucked against social norms for the rest of her days -- and that willful spirit helped her become the first woman with a racehorse training license in Kenya and the first person (man or woman) to fly solo across the Atlantic from England to the U.S.

Beryl wore pants and men's shirts, she trained horses, she flew planes, she went toe-to-paw with a lion and lived to tell the tale, she got dirty and worked hard, she was always up for an adventure, she was independent and she shined brilliantly all on her own. It's not surprising, then, that Beryl -- so different from the other women of her time -- attracted men wherever she went. Unfortunately, her can-do attitude didn't help her with her string of lovers -- most all wrong for her and the love of her life, safari guide Denys Finch Hatton, permanently unavailable for long-term commitment. Beryl spent years in a love triangle with Denys and his other mistress, Karen Blixen -- the characters of the movie "Out of Africa," which is based on Blixen's memoir. (Denys, by the way, was a pretty darn good looking fellow, and I can see why all the ladies fell head-over-heels for him!)

While we in the 21st century laud Beryl's accomplishments, pioneering spirit, forthrightness and perseverance, and we hardly bat an eyelash at women having extramarital affairs and getting divorces, things were not always easy for her in 1920s Kenya -- not to mention the far more rigid 1920s England. At a time when women were still considered weak of mind, body and will, and in need of a man's guidance and protection, Beryl pushed the boundaries and was often rewarded with gossip, scorn and isolation.

I had never heard of Beryl before reading "Circling the Sun," but I'm so glad she made her way into my life. I can totally see why Paula McLain felt she needed to paint a portrait of this amazing woman for us modern-day readers. It horrified me to learn in the epilogue that Beryl spent her later years in poverty. This lover, friend, fighter, horsewoman and pilot proved women can do anything, and she deserved so much more. By skillfully telling her story, McLain is giving her Beryl's memory the honor it deserves.

In the ways that count, "Circling the Sun" is extremely similar to "The Paris Wife," McLain's previous novel. Both are fictionalized accounts of a very notable but little-known women, both take place in the 1920s, and and both benefit from McLain's talented hand and storytelling abilities. But the settings, the adventures and the women themselves are completely different. I highly recommend picking up "Circling the Sun" and traveling back to 1920s Kenya to meet the remarkable Beryl Markham.

1 comment:

  1. Lindsay,I just finished reading this book over the weekend! I didn't know much about Beryl Markham either, so I did a lot of Googling while I was reading. Fascinating woman ... very much ahead of her time but also trapped by the proprieties of the time in which she lived. She was quite the rebel, though! Now I want to read "Out of Africa" and learn more from Karen's point of view.


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