Circling the Sun is the newest novel by author Paula McLain (who has also written the Paris Wife). It is a fictional story based on the actual Beryl Markham, a colourful woman, known best for flying solo across the Atlantic from East to West. The flight is referenced both at the beginning and end of the novel with the pages between devoted to her life leading up to the historic flight.
While reading this book, I had not realized that it was based on a true story with a Canadian connection (she had landed in New Brunswick). The story begins when Beryl’s family moved to Kenya to begin a new life in the colony. Her mother could not handle the rough lifestyle, living in a mud shack, and left with her older brother leaving Beryl to grow up without feminine influence, free to run wild with the limited supervision of her father. Her father was a horse trainer and worked diligently to build his business despite the challenges of the economy and the environment.
Beryl was independent, becoming the first female horse trainer with success that was overshadowed by her relationship issues. She was a daredevil and very unconventional in her dress and independence, considering the times. She did marry several times and had a number of affairs including rumours of a relationship with the prince beginning with a royal visit.
With the end of her second marriage, she became interested in flying. She enjoyed the freedom of flying and decided to attempt the challenging flight that others had died trying. Despite challenges, she was successful in her crossing.
This was an interesting book of early feminism and I wish that I had realized that it was based on a true story before beginning. Having just finished the Paris Wife, I marvel at the drinking and behaviour of the twenties, it seemed like a constant party! Beryl was before her time and did not have an easy life.
McLain has done a great job telling this story which I could imagine being made into a movie. I look forward to meeting McLain at the Grimsby Author Series and to reading her own memoir, Like Family, detailing her own life growing up with her sisters in foster care.
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