Thursday, 30 July 2015

Circling The Sun

Author: Paula McLain
Genre: Biography
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Source: Random House Canada
Publisher: Ballantine Books
First Published: July 28, 2015
First Line: "The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I've known, and somehow mine to fly."

Book Description from GoodReadsPaula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

My Review:  Circling the Sun details the life of Beryl Markham, a real-life British expat who was raised in Africa in the 1920's.  Living in the rough and wild African landscape the book also looks at the rather frivolous lifestyle of rich British expats.

Beryl was unique and stood out from other young women of the time.  Her accomplishments were impressive and her goals admirable.  She was a strong and fiercely independent woman especially for the era in which she lived.  She became an accomplished and respected horse trainer and the first woman to fly solo from east to west over the Atlantic Ocean (the fact that this flight was barely mentioned in the book was rather disappointing).  She paid a high price to follow her own path but, in the end, I don't think she would have wanted it any other way.

I found it interesting to read about Beryl's connections to Denys Finch Hatton and Baroness Karen Blixen (who wrote under the pen name, Isak Dinesen), the author who wrote "Out of Africa".  The story is told with the beautiful and wild backdrop of Africa which was vividly described for the reader.

Beryl was a hard person to figure out.  At times you applaud her for her accomplishments and breaking through the barriers put up around her.  Even though Beryl endured sexism, abandonment and some rather nasty relationships involving family members and men, Beryl was resilient. Then other times she makes some rather bad choices, comes off as self-centred, immature and so focused on her goals that she barreled through life without enough thought to the consequences.  I suppose that makes her realistic but, in the end, not overly likable.

A lot of the book focuses around Beryl's tumultuous relationships with men as well as her dysfunctional family life.  She had lived through hard times - abandonment, loss, failed relationships - but I can't say I really connected with her. It was her relationship with her childhood friend Ruta (which I would have loved to read more about) where I felt we truly got to see the real Beryl and its within that relationship that she was able to truly be herself.

This was an interesting read -- the era, the beautiful location, the African culture, the fact that it is based on a real woman -- but I didn't find it overly riveting.  This may stem from the fact that the story is told only through Beryl's eyes.  I would have loved to get other characters' input on Beryl and her choices - the good and the not so wise.  Circling the Sun had a rather leisurely pace as it followed Beryl's life and fans of "Out of Africa" should enjoy this book and its different take on the relationships that were first mentioned in Blixen/Dinesen's work.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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