Circling the Sun is a novel based on the real life of Beryl Markham, a British woman who grew and lived most of her unconventional life in Kenya. What I liked in the novel, besides the well-paced storytelling, was the description of life in Kenya from Beryl Markham’s point of view. While I found in the beginning that it did not have the same liveliness as Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, I soon began racing through the book.
Given that Beryl Markham lived in Kenya at the same era as Dinesen, a lot of the same characters, such as Denys Finch Hatton, Barkley Cole, Lord Delamere and Bror Blixen. As the colony was a small world, the British were quite likely to run into each other. Beryl Markham was a lover of Denis Finch Hatton, and worked doing air born reconnaissance for Bror Blixen in preparation for safaris.
Beryl Markham was exceptional because of the way she flaunted conventions to make her own choices. She was a certified horse trainer when the occupation was exclusively occupied by men. She also became a certified commercial pilot in the early age of commercial flight. She is not mentioned in Dinesen’s Out of Africa (the book) but a character in the movie version is said to be based on her (but that can only be very loosely as they do not seem to have the same character at all).
I was wondering about the meaning of the title… Here is my attempt at making sense of it: Maybe Beryl’s life is a series of attempts at meeting goals that eluded her (success, financial stability, happiness, recognition…), that looked like trying to reach to sun, with the related danger of burning one’s wings.
I enjoyed this book as much as I had enjoyed The Paris Wife a couple of years ago. I do enjoy fiction based on some facts (I recently ran into the term “exofiction” for this). I always end up looking up extra info on it and learning quite a bit in the process, in addition to enjoying a good story and good writing, when the job is well done.
Please do go on to read the 2 reviews with the asterisks below… far more critical of the book than I am (at the risk of making me look like a really lazy reviewer!).
McLain, Paula. Circling the Sun. Bond Street Books (Random House), 2015.