Book Talk: Circling the Sun

9:00:00 PM

“Oh." It seemed I'd surprised him. "There isn't a lot of that kind of thinking around here."

"Of course there is," I told him, trying to draw a smile. "It's just usually a man who's doing it.” 

When Beryl is brought to Kenya as a small child, it changes the course of her life - and that course is continually shifting. Raised as a literal wild child, exploring the fields of Africa with the natives, she comes to understand the beauty and danger of the place, and to love it deeply. When her mother abandons her for a new life back in England, Beryl and her father cling to the one thing they have - their farm and their horses, the things they know best. But when that is not enough, Beryl must continue to forge a new path for herself.

And she does, building and rebuilding a life for herself amid adversity of all kinds, but especially the kind wrought by someone brave enough to be exactly who they are, no matter what it costs them. Beryl was an extraordinary person, one who lived by her own code and broke all the rules, living like a man in a time when that seemed all but impossible. Determined to make a life for herself, Beryl ends up living many, learning from them all and growing into a remarkable woman, wealthy not in money, but in experience and understanding of the world around her.

I've read another of Paula McLain's novels, The Paris Wife, and found that McLain does here what she did there - she takes a someone's life - someone's story - and tells it beautifully and well. She never seems to diminish the story through retelling, and in both instances, shone a light on a historical figure that I was immensely curious not to have read more about. But although both Hadley and Beryl were at the forefront of what was happening in their respective worlds, their stories seem not often or publicly told, while the men in their worlds told their tales loudly and to everyone. It's as though McLain, through her fictionalization of their lives, gives them an opportunity to be heard again.

I loved the feeling I had after finishing The Paris Wife - the satisfaction of finishing a great story, but also the inspiration to go out and read some of Hemingway's work, to understand more about the world I had just come to know. I had that same feeling after reading Circling the Sun - to learn more about that world, to get my hands on the literature and information that had drawn the author to this information in the first place - and then I read the author's note. She talks beautifully about inspiration for Circling the Sun - Beryl Markham's own book, West with the Night, which I'm already on a waiting list to read at my local library. I love that McLain's writing doesn't just draw you to more of her own writing, but encourages you to think and learn and widen your horizons. Reading her stories makes me, in many ways, a better reader, and for that reason, I'll always recommend her novels and keep coming back for more.

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