Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal best seller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting listeners 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, author of 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 20th-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.
©2015 Paula McLain (P)2015 Random House Audio
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
Con: I wanted more from this book, which perhaps wasn't fair since I'd been content enough with McLain's "The Paris Wife", even though it had all the elements which properly limited it to the Women's Fiction bestseller category. But here is a daring woman of adventure, Beryl Markham, who braves being abandoned by her mother, a father who mostly ignores her, a lion attack, marriage to a drunk macho settler and becoming Kenya's first woman to be licensed as a horse trainer, all by the age of 18, and what we get for the first half of the book, is a nicely dressed bodice ripper. I had to quit halfway through, leaving Beryl to pine away for the love of her life, Denys Finch Hatton, who also happened to be her friend Karen Blixen's great love (as played by Robert Redford in the movie "Out of Africa"). But disturbingly enough, Paula McLain's description of Beryl's lion mauling and her first experience of bedding Finch Hatton, whom she actively and quite literally pursued, read in a similar sentimental semi-erotic vein:
“Paddy’s jaw closed on my thigh above the knee. I felt his dagger teeth and his wet tongue. The strangely cool feel of his mouth. My head swam as I smelled my own blood, and then he released me to bellow.” That's the mauling, not the lovemaking, for those of you who may (understandably) confuse the two.
A few chapters on, we get a sampling of Markham and and her lover going at it for the first time: “The night beyond the window had hushed itself as well, and there was only the fact of our two bodies rippled with shadow. We pressed to get closer, to push through something. . . .”
I wanted to ignore the niggling voice that said I couldn't take McLain's writing seriously to try to engage with the "real" Beryl of the writer's imagination and flow along with the story, but passages like the ones above made me decide to call it quits. Besides, I've had "West With the Night", Markham's 1942 memoir, sitting on my shelf for much too long. The same memoir that reportedly made Hemingway spit with jealousy, prompting him to write to his publisher “But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers.”
I think I'll be better served with Beryl's story in Markham's own words.
Beryl Markham is a fascinating real-life character who, based on highly researched biographies, was also very difficult and flawed. For an excellent, and I think more accurate reflection of Beryl Markham's life, read "The Lives of Beryl Markham" by Errol Trzebinski. In "Circling the Sun" the author presents a PG version of Markham's life, glossing over many facts and incidents that reflect Markham in a bad light, and spinning most other incidents to leave Markham innocent and in the right. In doing so, the author either ignores important incidents or tortures the facts to reconstruct them in Markham's favor. I heard the author interviewed on NPR and she said that she wrote the book from her home in Cleveland, and that since Colonial Kenya doesn't exist anymore, she was forced to write the book from her home and "just use her imagination". But she doesn't just use her imagination, she liberally cribs from "West with the Night" (a beautiful book about Markham's child and young adulthood in Kenya, whose authorship is controversial; the formal author is Beryl Markham, but there is strong proof that it was written by her 3rd husband), a book that is intentionally focused only on what was brave and remarkable about Beryl Markham. I love "West with the Night" too, and it's what led me to read anything else I could find about B. Markham. By contrast, when listening to "Circling the Sun", I had the impression the author swallowed "West with the Night" whole and launched her book from her admiration of the B. Markham portrayed in it. Any facts that collided with her vision of B. Markham were, as I say above, either ignored or spun to fit her image. Her Beryl Markham is sad, victimized and tender--but brave and true at heart. The author's need for that type of heroine does not do justice to the true Beryl Markham--a woman who was, unarguably remarkable and brave--but who was also sometimes heartless, cruel, selfish and highly flawed. If you want a version of Beryl Markham guaranteed to leave you mildly impressed and undisturbed you will like "Circling the Sun". I prefer the fascinating version that is the result of others' deep research: The complicated, amazing, infuriating Beryl Markham.
I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
I first heard about Beryl Markham when "West with the Night" was re-released in the 80s and was captivated. She's an incredibly fascinating woman - one who never really got the credit she deserved. I don't think I can separate how I feel about the woman from how I feel about the book ... but I'll try.
First, this book does a great job of introducing people to Beryl Markham. Little has been written about this larger-than-life character and it's a pity. (I wish more had been included in this book about her accomplishments and less about her love life, but that's a personal preference.) If you love hearing about really interesting women in unusual circumstances, this is a terrific book. You may not always agree with her choices, but you have to marvel at where she lived and how she lived. That alone makes this a must-read/listen.
Second, I hope this will encourage more people to hear her story in her own words in "West with the Night." It's a superb book. Though the authorship of that book has always been questioned, Paula McLain offers some of the best evidence I've ever heard to support the fact that yes, Beryl DID in fact write it herself. The two books together do a great job of telling the story of a phenomenal woman.
McLain brings to life Beryl Markham, Denys Finch Hatton, Karen Blixen, known adventurers who were the very reflections of Africa, a land untamed, vivid, and breath-taking. However. there was a wildness about Beryl, the reader discovers, that made her a woman to be reckoned with--a spearhead who dared to question the norm.
I highly recommend the book as it celebrates the lives of those among us who gamble everything to "reach for the stars."
As for Katherine McEwan, her beautiful voice added another dimension to the characters.
This story is a excellent companion to West With The Night. Gripping, romantic and thought provoking, you will not want to put this book down. Even better than the Paris Wife. Well done!!!
Loved the descriptions of life in Africa in the colonies. Loved the setting and mingling of British and African cultures Loved the inspiring bravery and sense of adventure of Beryl. The writing is lovely and I didn't want it to end.
I had already started "circling the sun" when I read the review of it in the New York Times. The woman who wrote the review made it clear she didn't like it at all. I, on the other hand, loved everything about this book. I wish I could tell the reviewer how wrong she was. If you're into listening to a great story that will make you want more... this one is for you.
I would recommend this to a friend, when I finished it I couldn't believe I had never heard of this woman
Beryl Markham - British-born Kenyan aviator, adventurer, racehorse trainer and author. The first woman (in 1936, at the age of 33) to cross the Atlantic solo, nonstop, and "the hard way," east to west, harassed by storms and wicked headwinds.
Probably a little too much descriptive detail for me but still enjoyed it.I would've liked it to cover more of her achievements and focus less on her love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
"Though set in colonized Kenya, the brutal injustice of colonialism is obfuscated, and the lives of African people are presented"
Though set in colonized Kenya, the brutal injustice of colonialism is obfuscated, and the lives of African people are presented as minutia, nearly non-existent. White people once again are treated as if their's are the only lives that mater. The writing is gorgeous and the reading superb, and if this is what matters, then enjoy the solipsism of imperialism
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