Book Review

Circling the Sun

Paula McLain


This powerful novel transports readers to the breathtaking world of Out of Africa–1920s Kenya–and reveals the extraordinary adventures of Beryl Markham, a woman before her time.

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The book is the life of Beryl Markham, the first English woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. The format is unusual in that it is written in the first person but is the life of someone who actually existed. The format made the book difficult for some, even intrusive, creating a character who never came to life and for others the novel(?) was formulaic with much of the book echoing the Karen Blixen book “Out of Africa”. They both cover the exploitative nature of colonialism, the scandal mongering ex-pat community, the beauty of the African land. Beryl knew Karen and they shared the same lifestyle, to a degree, of colonial Kenya and even the same lover Denys Finch Hatton.

From a difficult childhood Beryl, deserted by her mother and later her father, grew up to be an independent adventurous woman, because of her family history or her inherent personality? who defied the confines of the tight colonial community and became famous as a race horse owner and trainer and later as a pilot. The book does not cover the whole of her life, ending after her solo flight across the Atlantic but she lived a further 50 years.

The general consensus was a book that was interesting rather than enjoyable and raised the question as to why she is not more well known for her achievements as a woman well ahead of her time.