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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun

This has to be one of the best books ever. A love triangle, history of a nation emerging and the brave, heroic story of a very young woman finding her way and trying to stand on her own two feet at a time when women were generally thought to be helpless and men seemed to like it that way.

Beryl is just seventeen - her father seems to have given her very little choice. Leaving their beloved home in Ngoro and joining them in a new venture or getting married to Jock a much older man. Someone with whom she has had very little conversation, no knowledge of. Even at this stage it looked a receipe for disaster. The marriage is foundering from its first day and you begin to realize that Jock himself has taken on someone whom he does not understand and is not willing to even try.
Beryl realises that she has to take care of herself and to this end does something unprecedented not just in Kenya but in the whole world. She becomes a horse trainer. This is something she has done her entire life, she understands the animal so very well and this she does successfully. It also spells the end of her marriage and the beginning of several romantic liaisons, none of them permanent and all of them spelling disappointment and sadness for Beryl.

Fast forward to Beryl's success as a horse trainer and to the jealousy that follows from women and men alike. Beryl has to face adversity and loss and even in her second marriage disaster follows disaster when she is forced to give up her baby son to a domineering mother in law and an ineffectual, helpless husband. The sole light in her life is her love for Dennis but this is always something that she has to share with Karen Bixen. Dennis cannot be tied down to any woman and Karen is never going to give up the tenuous hold she has on him.

The story is a fascinating memoir of an unusual woman of her time. She was actually way ahead of her time as she just wanted to be Beryl Markham. She did not want or need to be anyone else and this was something that made everyone around her uncomfortable.  The people she moved with were not conventional in the least but conformity to society's norms was very important for them and unfortunately Beryl did not fit into any one category. Her sins were not easily forgiven or forgotton by society and this ostracized her. It also made her realize how alone she was.

The story of Beryl is the main one but the history and beauty of Kenya forms such an integral part of the story and the two are intertwined throughout.

This was a beautifully written story and I  was so glad I got this book from Ballantine Books through Netgalley.


  1. This sounds excellent. I love reading your thoughtful, well-written and informative reviews. Thanks so much

  2. I have a copy of this for review too and I'm glad that you enjoyed it so much! I love historical fiction especially about real people and Beryl Markham sounds like a fascinating figure. Great review!

  3. I'm reading this right now and loving it, too!

  4. You make this sound really good, Mystica. I tried reading one of the author's earlier books and couldn't get into it. I liked her writing style though, and so I know it wasn't that. I may have to give this one a try.

  5. I did think this book was beautifully written but the middle of it really dragged for me. Still, Beryl's story is a fascinating one.

  6. This sounds really interesting. I loved Out of Africa which focused on Blixen and Finch Hatton's love story and even visited Karen, where Blixen's house still stands and is now a museum, in Kenya. The antics of the Happy Valley set were decadent and extreme and yet at its core I always feel there is a sense of deep sadness and alienation. I've got a copy of The Paris Wife so I'm looking forward to trying both.