May 14, 2015

Book Review: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

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Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain
To be released July 28, 2015; Ballantine
Genre: historical fiction

Setting: British expatriate community, Kenya, 1920s
Main character: Aviator and horse trainer Beryl Markham
Book beginning; first sentences:
Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet still somehow new, the name belonged to our most magnificent mountain. You could see it from our farm in Njoro, in the British East African Protectorate - hard edged at the far end of a stretching golden plain, its crown glazed with ice that never completely melted.
My comments: Because I had seen the much touted movie, Out of Africa, with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep playing the real life characters, hunter Denys Finch Hatton and coffee farmer Karen Blixen, I was curious to read the novel based on the life of the third party in their romantic trio - Beryl Markham.

Beryl and her parents and brother arrived in Kenya in 1904 when she was about five years old. When her mother, fed up with the hardships of Africa, left with her brother, Beryl was left to fend for herself on a horse training farm run by her father. She grew up with Kipsigis tribe members on her farm, learning their ways, being cared for by them, and hunting and running with her playmate Kibii. Beryl traveled several times back to England, but her loyalties stayed with Africa.

The novel tells of her failed marriages, her love for Denys Finch Hatton who could or would not commit to any one woman, and her strained relationship with his other lover, Karen Blixen, The story tells however of a young woman who was determined in 1920s Africa to be the equal to any man in bravery, determination, and freedom. She was the first female horse trainer in Kenya whose horses won many prizes. She was thwarted many times by those who looked down on her because she was a woman, but she triumphed in becoming a successful trainer as well as an aviator who made an historic flight across the Atlantic to North America.

Not only was the story interesting in the way it was presented, but the poetic and descriptive writing pulled me in and kept me interested. These real life characters were complex, their lives dramatic, and this novel brought the people and the history of the period in Kenya to life. I enjoyed reading it.

Objective rating: 5/5

I received an advance reader's edition of this book for review. 


  1. I would give it just about five stars, too. I thought it gave a wonderful, and fair, picture of Beryl Markahm's life. She seems like such an interesting person!

    1. She certainly held her own in Africa. I was interested that Hemingway liked and recommended Beryl's little known memoir.

  2. t seems that books derived from characters and situations from other books are very popular now.

    Now that you have read this Harvee do you think that you will read the Original Out of Africa?

    1. I am tempted to do that, Brian. Getting another perspective of the times and story.

  3. Sounds like a fascinating story set in an exotic (for me) locale. I'm adding this to my TBR list.
    My Friday post features DANCING AT THE RASCAL FAIR.

    1. Kenya does indeed sound exotic to us on the other side of the globe. I'd love to visit some day.


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