Monday, August 10, 2015

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain
Published July 2015 by Ballantine Books
Source: the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
I'm not sure how I first became aware of Beryl Markham; I added her autobiography West With The Night to my Goodreads TBR list in June 2011. Four years later when I became aware of Paula McLain's fictionalized account of Markham's life, I went straight to Netgalley to see if I could get a copy of it. Having recently read and enjoyed McLain's The Paris Wife, I definitely went into this book with high expectations.

What I hadn't realized going into the book was that Markham's true love was Finch Hatton, who was also the lover of Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dineson) who wrote Out Of Africa, a book I enjoyed which became a movie I loved. Circling The Sun threw me, once again, into that time in Africa, when Britain oversaw what was then called British East Africa, when the wild life was still wild and the British were still working to "civilize" the country.
"Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet still somehow new, the name belonged only to our most magnificent mountain."
Beryl Markham was a woman who was made for life in that time and that place. When her mother left her, Beryl was left largely to her own devices. She had only a very brief formal education - instead she learned about the land from the natives who lived nearby and from her father as he raised and trained racing horses. She knew, even as a young girl, that the traditional roles of women (both native and British) were not for her and that she would have to learn to be tough.
"Softness and helplessness got you nothing in this place. Tears only emptied you out."
Before she was even 18, Markham's father approved of her marriage to a much older man when he could no longer take care of her. Almost immediately, Markham realized it was the wrong choice but it was only the first in a series of bad personal choices she would make; she was a headstrong young woman without a mother figure to lean on or learn from and only her heart to follow in a land where gossip was a very dangerous thing.
"A lion is more cautious on equal footing, but even then he won't back down. He has no fear, you see, not as we understand it. He can only be exactly what he is, what his nature dictates, and nothing else."
Eventually Markham met Finch Hatton, and, through him, the author Karen Blixen. The three became close friends.
"I was...surprised at how very much I liked these two. There wasn't anything simple about them, and I preferred that, and trusted it. My life wasn't simple either."
The relationship between the three would not be simple, either, when Finch Hatton and Markham became lovers even while he was still living with Blixen. Eventually, it would drive Markham into the arms of another man and a second marriage that would end acrimoniously in just a few years.

Through it all, Markham found a way to survive, going back time and again to the one thing she knew - horse training. To support not only herself, but her dearest friend and his family, she persevered until she became the first woman to be a licensed horse trainer. When that was longer an option, she became one of the first female pilots, the first to fly solo across the Atlantic.
"Lakwet [the name Markham had given herself as a young girl when her mother left] was only a name after all. I had forged her myself, out of broken, learning to love wildness instead of fearing it. To thrive on the exhilaration of the hunt, charging headlong into the world even - or especially - when it hurt to do it."
Markham's live was never easy but it was a full life full of passion and reward. McLain does a wonderful job of bringing it all to life and show readers what it means to be a survivor against all odds.

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