Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
We have an exclusive here on One Book Two! Agent Annie, detective that she is, managed to connect with the Phantom, who usually slips review under the door at One Book Two headquarters. Through covert means, Annie was able to interview the Phantom about the novel, Circling the Sun.
Publisher’s Description:Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal New York Times bestseller The Paris Wife, takes readers into the glamorous and decadent circle of British expats living in Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun tells the story of the beautiful young horse trainer, adventurer, and aviator Beryl Markham, from her childhood in British East Africa to her relationship with hunter Denys Finch Hatton and rivalry with Out of Africa author Karen Blixen—a notorious love triangle that changed the course of Beryl’s life.
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.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
So why did you pick up this book originally?
I had previously read Beryl Markham’s memoir, West with the Night. I had picked that up because of my own experiences in Kenya and thought this book would be interesting, too. I also knew that Beryl Markam was friends with Karen Blixen. who wrote Out of Africa under the pen name Izak Dineson.
Did you like the book? What was your favorite part of the book?
Yes, I enjoyed the story. It brought back memories of living in Africa by its descriptive sections. It called up reminders of Out of Africa (movie and book). Beryl was a very strong woman in an age and place where women where second class citizens or playthings.
What did you think of the “Happy Valley Set” and their role in that era?
I am fascinated by the colonial era and the Brits who came to Africa and threw off all the restraints of home—in dress, in behaviors and relationships.
Beryl was not what people expected her to be. Do you think Beryl was a good person?
She would take any dare that came her way. Having grown up with a horse trainer father and following in his footsteps, she placed herself in a man’s world. which eventually lead her to the airfield where she became a world renown aviatrix and the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, East to West. I don’t believe she was a happy person—she was in love with a man who was already loved by her good friend and that love-triangle was difficult—but it is the reason Beryl had access to much more than she would have.
Does this book make you want to become a flyer?
Yes, I think the author made the parts about flying much more appealing than the descriptive parts about Africa. I think Paula McLain writes very clearly about the exhilaration of being airborne and making that happen yourself.
I have recommended this book to others and give it a 4. I have recommended this to my book group because there is a lot of thoughtful issues that can be discussed, mostly dealing with women’s issues.
I give this book about a 2. I thought it was OK but really lacked in developing the supporting characters. I think the author researched much on Beryl’s life, but she didn’t make the story flow. I felt it was more a series of chapters of her life that happened to be put in chronological order, but didn’t lead naturally into each other.
For example, Beryl meets a man named Tom somewhere in the middle of the book and it’s just a short meeting by the side of the road and a car is fixed. And that‘s it! Much later you find out that this is the man who will introduce Beryl to flying, which is the title of the book and what she is most well known for. As the reader, this first meeting has zero significance, yet it should be one of the most important things that happens to her.
Unfortunately, I felt most of the book was written this way. I did, however, enjoy reading about the 1920’s and the Happy Valley Set of Brits/Americans in Africa. The world they lived in was beautiful, but the money it took to be in that environment was astronomical.
I also enjoyed learning more about horse racing in Africa. I hadn’t realized that horse trainers and breeders had an entire community that was well respected in Kenya at that time. I also liked the connection with the book Out of Africa by Izak Dinesen. The main character, Beryl, definitely led an interesting life filled with adventure, sorrow, joy, beauty & hard work, but I don’t think this book did that life full justice.