Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun

A Novel

Book - 2015
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"Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature's delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships. Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it's the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl's truest self and her fate: to fly."-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Ballantine Books, [2015]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780345534187
0345534182
9780345534194
Characteristics: 366 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm

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Featured Blogs and Events

Travel to Novel Places: Colonial Kenya

Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife, has a new novel: Circling the Sun.  It focuses on the early life of Beryl Markham, a horse trainer and one of the first female commercial pilots. Coming to what would become Kenya at a young age and abandoned by her mother, Beryl grows up wild on her father's farm. After a disastrous first marriage, Beryl meets the pilot and safari guide Denys Finch Had… (more)

Travel to Novel Places: Colonial Kenya

Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife, has a new novel: Circling the Sun.  It focuses on the early life of Beryl Markham, a horse trainer and one of the first female commercial pilots. Coming to what would become Kenya at a young age and abandoned by her mother, Beryl grows up wild on her father's farm. After a disastrous first marriage, Beryl meets the pilot and safari guide Denys Finch Had… (more)


From Library Staff

McLain again tackles an interesting historical figure, as she did with The Paris Wife, by creating a fictionalized account of Beryl Markham's early life. Markham, a British-born Kenyan aviator, was the first woman to successfully fly across the Atlantic from the east to the west. Markham was a sp... Read More »


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PDBurt
Jun 19, 2019

I read this about a year ago but didn't make a comment. In seeing it again, I remember what a great story it was, riveting and informative about horses and life in Kenya. I highly recommend it.

JCLTiffanyR Apr 19, 2019

Paula McLain is at the top of her game in this work of historical fiction which looks at the life of pioneering aviatrix Beryl Markham. Beryl is a strong feminist figure and a woman who lived far before her time. When other women were happy as wives and mothers, Beryl was an accomplished horsewoman and pilot, succeeding with ease in a man's world. McLain captures the vibrancy of early 20th Century Africa and the love triangle between Beryl, Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen (of Out of Africa fame), which may draw many readers to the title, is well-drawn and captivating without overshadowing Beryl's larger body of accomplishments. This book grabbed me early and kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning. A great title for a book club discussion.

r
ryner
Oct 26, 2018

A fluid and mesmerizing fictionalized biography of the very real Beryl Markham, who grew up in Kenya and became an exceptional horse trainer and a pioneering aviator, both unusual pursuits for a women of her time. As a reader I was enthralled by the beauty and rawness of her African experience, and I look forward to reading the related works 'West with the Night' (Beryl's own autobiography) and 'Out of Africa,' written by her friend Karen Blixen.

o
orange_lobster_23
Apr 18, 2018

This fictional biography of 1930's aviatrix/ horse trainer Beryl Markham tends to be a gossipy
shadow of the memoir written by Beryl Markham, "West with the Night" (which was well written and more authentic). Abandoned by her mother (as was Paula McClain) and raised by her father in rural colonial Kenya, Ms. Markham leads a fearless life, culminating in being the first person to pilot the Atlantic west. This is the only fictional bio that I have read from this author, who enjoys a large following.

avis42405 Mar 07, 2018

Well-written and fascinating story about a real-life, adventurous woman who tested the boundaries of a male-dominated world both on the ground and in the air.

s
SusanFlesher
Feb 28, 2018

By looking at other readers ratings I see this was a love it or hate it book. I loved it!
I kept having to remind myself Beryl Markham was a real woman. And was she ever, with a "never give up" drive despite so many obsticles!

o
opallisa
Jan 30, 2018

Read instead Beryl's autobiography "West With the Night", more detailed about her childhood, so well written. I am not sure why "Circling the Sun" was even written. No where does it say 'historical fiction' so I thought it an awkward novel until the after page where the autobiography is mentioned.

ArapahoeAnnaL Jan 26, 2018

This well written historical novel takes place in Kenya in the early 20th century and is based on the life of Beryl Markham, a horse-trainer and early aviator. Her courage and determination to work and love to the limits of her ability make this a fascinating and inspiring read.

c
cakerocks
Jul 30, 2017

I love Markham's short stories but this novel was just shallow and overly detailed. Disappointed.

ehbooklover Dec 14, 2016

A well written, and ultra-interesting book about a woman who was way before her time. I couldn't put this one down due to the wonderfully flawed and complicated protagonist and the beautifully described setting. UPDATE: Read this again for the library's Book Club. Everyone loved it and great discussions were had!

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Quotes

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j
jimg2000
Feb 01, 2017

For British East Africa, war meant stopping the land-greedy Germans from taking everything we believed was rightfully ours. Large portions of the protectorate had become battlefields, and men everywhere—Boers and Nandis and white settlers, Kavirondo and Kipsigis warriors—had left their ploughs and mills and shambas to join the King’s African Rifles.
===
The women did all the carrying and the hoeing, the weaving and ploughing. They cared for the animals, too, while the warriors hunted or prepared for the hunt, oiling their limbs with rendered fat, plucking small hairs off their chests with tweezers kept in pouches around their necks. These totos kneeling on the ground would one day aim not at gourds but bushpig, steenbok, lion. What could be more thrilling?
===
“Mother and Dickie aren’t coming back, are they?” He gave me a pained look. “I don’t know.” “Perhaps she’s waiting for us to come to her.”

j
jimg2000
Sep 10, 2015

The three main characters together in less tumultuous time:

“You can see how I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Karen said. “Denys wants to be buried here.”
“A pair of eagles have an eyrie somewhere nearby,” he said. “I like the idea of them soaring nobly over my carcass.” He squinted into the sun, his face brown and healthy, his long limbs throwing purple shadows behind him. There was a single line of perspiration running along his back between his shoulder blades, and his white cotton sleeves were rolled over his smooth, tanned forearms. I couldn’t imagine him any other way but this: every inch of his body absolutely and completely alive.
“The Kikuyu put out their dead for the hyenas,” I said. “If we could choose, I think I’d take eagles, too.”

j
jimg2000
Sep 10, 2015

How close people could be to us when they had gone as far away as possible, to the edges of the map. How unforgettable.
===
“What was it that drew you?” I asked him.
“About Kenya? Nearly everything. I think I’d always been looking for an escape route.”
“Escape from what?”
“I don’t know. Any tight-fitting definition of what a life should be, I suppose. Or what I should be in it.”
I smiled. “Should isn’t a word that suits you, is it?”
“Worked that one out already, did you?”
===
There are things we find only at our lowest depths. The idea of wings and then wings themselves. An ocean worth crossing one dark mile at a time. The whole of the sky. And whatever suffering has come is the necessary cost of such wonders, as Karen once said, the beautiful thrashing we do when we live.

j
jimg2000
Sep 10, 2015

Some memorable quotes in goodreads:
http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/43446210-circling-the-sun
Here is a few not, at least yet:
One of the elders swept me up, murmuring a string of charmed words, and tying a cowrie shell ceremoniously to my waist. It swung on a leather thong and was meant to resemble the closed cowrie shell between my own legs and to ward off evil spirits. When a Kip girl was born, they did this. I was the white to resemble the closed cowrie shell between my own legs and to ward off evil spirits. When a Kip girl was born, they did this. I was the white daughter of their white bwana, but something unnatural had happened that needed setting to rights. No African mother would ever have thought to abandon a child. I was healthy, you see, not maimed or weak. So they stamped out that first start and gave me another as Lakwet, meaning “very little girl.”

j
jimg2000
Sep 10, 2015

“The whip shouldn’t have been more than a gnat for Paddy (the lion that attacked Beryl,)” Bishon Singh told me.
“What do you mean?”
“What is a whip to a lion? He must have been ready to let you go. Or perhaps you weren’t ever meant for him.”
“Have you ever seen stars like this? You can’t have. They don’t make them like this anywhere in the world.” Above our heads, the sky was a brimming treasure box. Some of the stars seemed to want to pull free and leap down onto my shoulders—and though these were the only ones I had ever known, I believed Denys when he said they were the finest. I thought I might believe anything he said, in fact, even though we had just met. He had that in him.
===
Denys read on, his voice rising and falling, while a leopard moth that had got caught in the curtains stopped struggling for a moment, and realized it was free.

j
jimg2000
Sep 10, 2015

“Perhaps,” he said. “Or perhaps I’ll learn the difference between a boy’s dreams and a man’s.” He paused, and then said, “When I marry, my father will live again in my sons.” He sounded so arrogant, so sure of himself. It made me want to challenge him or put him right. I said, “The man who wants to marry me is very rich and strong. He lives near here. He built his house in three days.” “A proper house or a hut?” he wanted to know. “A real house, with shingles and a pitched roof, and glass windows.” He was silent for a moment, and I was sure I’d finally impressed him. “Three days,” he said at last. “There is no wisdom in such hurrying. This house will not stand long.” “You haven’t seen it.” My voice rose with irritation. “How can that matter?” he said. “I would ask him to build another dwelling, just for you, and to take more care.” He turned away, dismissing me, and said, partly over his shoulder, “You should know I have a moran’s name now. I am arap Ruta.”

j
jimg2000
Sep 10, 2015

“Ah,” he said, and then repeated a Swahili phrase he’d challenged me with years before, “A new thing is good, though it be a sore place.”
Bit burrs. Tongue-tying. Saddling for exercise and saddling for races. There was shoeing and bandaging, conditioning and equipment. I had to learn to read track surfaces and stakes sheets, and calculate weight allowances. I had to know the diseases and ailments forward and back—bowed tendons and splints, foundering, bucked shins, bone chips, slab fractures, and quarter cracks. Thoroughbreds were glorious and also fragile in very specific ways. They often had small hearts, and the exertion of racing also made them susceptible to haemorrhaging in the lungs. Undetected colic could kill them—and if it did, that death would be on me...
===
How dreadful it would be if everything toppled you and you folded in. Rain, for instance, not to mention the loss of a husband.

j
jimg2000
Sep 10, 2015

" ... Does Ben suspect (of affair?)”
“I think so, not that we have the bad taste to talk about it. He’s got his own entanglements, too.” She gave me a complicated smile. “You’ve heard the joke, haven’t you? Are you married or do you live in Kenya?”
“Maybe not everywhere, but the rules are different here. It’s sort of assumed you’ll have dalliances or go crazy…but discretion still plays an essential part. You can do anything as long as the right people stay shielded. And the funny thing is, that doesn’t always mean your spouse.”
By her estimation, an affair was as de rigueur for the colonists as quinine tablets were for fever—a way to weather or temporarily forget marital unhappiness.
===
The pilgrims and the lost often did look the same, as Denys had once told me, and it was possible everyone ended up in the same place no matter which path we took or how often we fell to our knees, undoubtedly wiser for all of it.

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