Book Review: Circling The Sun

5 Jul

In my summer reading quest to read biographical novels featuring interesting women, I chose Circling The Sun by Paula McClain. I read Beryl Markham‘s memoir, West with The Night years ago, so I knew a bit about the life of the amazing woman who was the first ever (male or female) to fly solo across the Atlantic to North America. I wish I had stuck with this version of Markham. 😉 Read my thoughts below.

This powerful novel transports readers to the breathtaking world of Out of Africa — 1920s Kenya — and reveals the extraordinary adventures of Beryl Markham, a woman before her time. Brought to Kenya from England by pioneering parents dreaming of a new life on an African farm, Beryl is raised unconventionally, developing a fierce will and a love of all things wild. But after everything she knows and trusts dissolves, headstrong young Beryl is flung into a string of disastrous relationships, then becomes caught up in a passionate love triangle with the irresistible safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and the writer Baroness Karen Blixen. Brave and audacious and contradictory, Beryl will risk everything to have Denys’s love, but it’s ultimately her own heart she must conquer to embrace her true calling and her destiny: to fly.

Paula McLain is the author of the the New York Times bestselling novels The Paris Wife, Circling the Sun, and Love and Ruin. Now she introduces When the Stars Go Dark, an atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense. McLain was born in Fresno, California in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years. When she aged out of the system, she supported herself by working as a nurses aid in a convalescent hospital, a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker, a cocktail waitress –before discovering she could (and very much wanted to) write. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and is the author of two collections of poetry, a memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, and the debut novel, A Ticket to Ride. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, O: the Oprah Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Huffington Post, the Guardian and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Cleveland.

My Impressions:

Let me first begin by saying that Paula McClain is a very talented author. Her diligence in research and her ability to set the reader in a different time and place is showcased in Circling The Sun. Kenya of the early 20th century came alive to me. And I felt that I knew and understood the characters well. I just didn’t like them very much. 😉 That’s not the fault of McClain — this is a biographical novel, after all, and the warts are very much in evidence. Beryl Markham was an amazingly independent and progressive woman for her time, yet she continually makes the same mistakes in her relationships with men. Some of that can be chalked up to her hands-off upbringing and her parents’ negligence, but sometimes we just need to learn from our mistakes. Colonial Kenya seemed to be a place for those who bucked the norms of the day or the misfits who just didn’t fit in their home societies. The portrayal is fascinating. So I guess I shouldn’t have really expected a lot of high ground from the people who populated Markham’s life. Much of the novel features her early life and loves; less focus is put on her flying acommplishments. While I thought the book was very well-written, I’d recommend reading Markham’s memoir West with The Night if you only have a limited time to devote to the subject. It may be a little more biased, but I liked Markham more in it. (Please note: this is a general market novel — adult language and situations.)

Audience: adults.

(I downloaded the audiobook from my local library through Libby. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

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