Circling The Sun by Paula McLain

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Until I took to reading Circling The Sun, all I knew about Beryl Markham was that she had a record breaking flight across the Atlantic. I have not read West with the night, Beryl’s autobiography and Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen.

This is also the first time I picked up a book by Paula McLain, thanks to the book cover. I found Beryl’s posture, expressions and the manner shown in the picture so appealing, I picked it up immediately and turned back to read about the book. The description was interesting and so is the book.

Circling the sun is based on Beryl Markham’s life right from the time she was brought to Kenya as a child to her voyage across Atlantic. From the very sentence in the prologue, the writing is mesmerizing and captivating. It is the writing of Paula McLain for which one can tend to forgive the few flaws of the book and the many flaws of Beryl herself. It beautifully describes Africa and literally transports the reader into that world. The lives and affairs of many European settlers in the valley are chronicled interestingly although the focus is only on infidelity and being presentable in the particular social order.

The book starts with Beryl coming to Africa with her parents and then chapter by chapter opens her life in a very systematic manner. Her mother leaves her in Kenya with her father and returns to England. she has been brought up by her father in an unconventional set up on a farm growing up with the kipsigis tribe and sharing a great bond with the tribal boy named Ruta. She also admires his father and learned all about the wild from them. At the tender age of sixteen, her father’s decision to move out of Kenya after suffering great loses on the farm, leaves her getting into a marriage she is not ready for. Until this point she has been growing wild and had been free spirited but without any complexities. She remained a free spirited person through out her life and made choices which shows that the accomplished free spirit was also a self absorbed and selfish person to a large extent.

She could not be confined to the domestic life and takes on to horse training and becomes the first woman to acquire a license. Her accomplishments comes with her hard work and focus but her experiments in her personal life brings in scandals. She does not shy away from using people for money, she recklessly gets in and out of relationships, gets married again to someone while she is in love with another person. Though every one in the story is in love with some one while being married to another, they seem to be faithful on one side at least. This can not be said for Beryl, all her life she was infatuated with Denys but I really doubt their was any sort of commitment. She is love with one, married to another, pregnant and at the same time flirting with the prince. The story by McLain does not go into the details of the flirting or the affair rather but nevertheless it makes her character too doubtful though not her accomplishments.

Her love for her work and her focus on achieving her dreams is commendable but the choices she sometimes made in order to realize her dreams are questionable. She was adventurous, ahead of her time in thinking and in actions but was she an independent women, I do not think so. She always despised the elite and social circles around her and yet she was always part of them or acting one at her own convenience.

It is promoted to be an historical fiction based on Beryl’s life in Colonial Kenya but the Colonial Kenya is only the backdrop for the fiction and doesn’t touch lives of natives or the struggles or what a colony had been meant to be in that era. Not only the location but the natives are also depicted as part of the exotic backdrop or the majestic landscape in author’s words.

Each chapter explores the beauty of splendid Africa and introduces the various people who crosses through Beryl’s life at that point of time. Not only Beryl but all the characters are described with a depth except Ruta, the only native coming out of the backdrop, the childhood friend of Beryl’s who has been so significant in her life. Ironically he has not been touched upon well in the book or may be that’s the way Beryl had kept it, after all her ambitions only mattered in the world.

The story does really well for most part of book. Its remarkable at the start and till the point Beryl’s struggles, winning and her determination to go on through all the adversaries despite the questionable choices is not been taken over by her selfishness. After that it became repetitive in describing the parties, the multi course dinners and the details of dresses worn.

McLain has done a wonderful job when in normal conversations, things which are deep in meaning are said.

“I’ve sometimes thought that being loved a little less than others can actually make a person, rather than ruin them.”

“I’ve never travelled,” I told her. “Oh, you absolutely should,” she insisted, “if only so that you can come home and really see it for what it is. That’s my favourite part.”

“We can only go to the limits of ourselves—I’ve learned that if nothing else.”

There are few more especially when it is from Karen Blixen, she appears to be one strong woman and whether or not I will read more about Beryl, I am adding Karen Blixen to my list.

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