I picked up an advance of Paula McLain’s new novel, Circling the Sun, knowing that it centers fully on the life of Beryl Markham. I knew that Beryl was an aviatrix, that she had short hair, and that she had written the popular memoir West with the Night. If I’d have had to guess, I would have guess that she was from London. Or that she went to grade school with Amelia Earhart stateside. And that was the extent of my knowledge. As it turned out, I had been operating under false assumptions. Beryl Markham was MUCH cooler than I could have imagined!
Although I was correct in assuming she was British – she didn’t grow up in London, but rather deep in the heart of Kenya. The setting alone made this an incredibly entertaining and worthwhile read. She was tough, she was opinionated, she was also naive and brash and a little bit wild. The novel only briefly touches upon her life in the sky, instead focusing on her life before she discovered airplanes. Her father was a horse trainer, a breeder and an owner and Beryl followed closely in his footsteps (unheard of for a woman at the time). She fell into a fast moving crowd and struggled to keep up, making multiple missteps as she tried. Scandal seemed to follow her around in the most delicious ways (for a reader, at least). I loved getting to know her through this fast moving, entertaining novel. Every other famous Brit living in Kenya during this time (the 1920s and onward) makes a cameo in this book, or is a central character: Idina Sackville, subject of The Bolter, Karen Blixon and Denys (author and love interest in Out of Africa) – all the ones that you could name are here. 5 stars.
If you, like me, are fascinated by this sort of wild and uninhibited period of time in Africa, here are some other books that fit the bill (that are also great!):
- Wildflower by Mark Seal
- The Bolter by Frances Osborne
- Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
- West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain (Ballantine Books | 9780345534187 | July 28, 2015)