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Circling the Sun: A Novel Audio CD – Unabridged, July 28, 2015
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“Paula McLain cements herself as the writer of historical fictional memoir with Circling the Sun, giving vivid voice to Beryl Markham, a singular, extraordinary woman. In McLain’s confident hands, Markham crackles to life, and we readers truly understand what made a woman so far ahead of her time believe she had the power to soar.”—Jodi Picoult, author of Leaving Time
“Richly textured . . . Markham’s life is the stuff of legend. . . . McLain has created a voice that is lush and intricate to evoke a character who is enviably brave and independent.”—NPR
“Bold, absorbing fiction.”—New York Daily News
“Paula McLain has such a gift for bringing characters to life. I loved discovering the singular Beryl Markham, with all her strengths and passions and complexities, a woman who persistently broke the rules, despite the personal cost. She’s a rebel in her own time, and a heroine for ours.”—Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You
“By the last pages, readers will hate to say goodbye to such an irresistible narrator.”—Miami Herald
“Paula McLain brings Beryl to glorious life, portraying a woman with a great many flaws that seem to result from her zest for life and inability to follow the roles expected of women in the 1920s and ’30s.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Amelia Earhart gets all the airtime, but this pilot had the juicier past. . . . McLain crafts a story readers won’t soon forget.”—Good Housekeeping
“With a sharp eye for detail and style to spare, Paula McLain captures the nuances of complex relationships, the rigidity of social conventions, and the wide skies and breathtaking vistas of Africa.”—Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train
“Set in 1920s Kenya, this fictionalized history of the beautiful, high-flying aviator Beryl Markham is as luminous as its headstrong heroine. An exhilarating ride.”—Family Circle
“Paula McLain is yet another twenty-first-century woman who can write rings around the hyper-masculine men who dominate so much of American fiction.”—Liz Smith
“McLain’s skill at blending fact and fiction, which dazzled readers in The Paris Wife, is on full display. . . . Circling the Sun is a masterful story of hardship, courage and love.”—Shelf Awareness
About the Author
- ASIN : 0307989909
- Publisher : Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (July 28, 2015)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 9780307989901
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307989901
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 1.07 x 5.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,754,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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Thirty some years ago I read Out of Africa, West with the Night, and biographies of both Beryl Markham and Karen Blixen. I was mesmerized by the characters of Beryl and Karen and their intertwining lives and also by the glimpses of Africa gleaned from their writings. So I was anxious to revisit the characters and places in Paula McClain’s new novel about Beryl Markham, Circling the Sun.
In some ways it was a rewarding read. McClain’s prose is lush, fluid, crisp. I noted that McClain has a degree in poetry, and her writing style attests to that fact. The novel covers the span of Beryl’s life from childhood to her thirties. I feel that McClain did a fine job of pulling out the important phases of Beryl’s life during that time frame and connecting them together in a compelling narrative. Also, I applaud McClain’s depiction of Beryl as strong willed and self-determine. And more importantly, we see that Beryl is talented and competent in her pursuits of horse training and later flying.
But I feel there are other aspects of Beryl’s characterization that miss the mark and do so by a long shot. Beryl is endowed with a wisdom and philosophical bent that can only come from years of living. The bride of 16 in the novel seems more patient, more knowing, more socially skilled than the characters around her. McClain does rightfully depict Beryl as a character who is victimized by the abandonment and betrayal of family and friends, but the Beryl of the novel rises to a level of magnanimity and nobility that doesn’t match the depictions of her in the conversations and writings of her contemporaries and biographers. In Circling the Sun, we see a wounded Beryl who comes to the aid of her faltering parents and who chooses to simply ignore the vicious rumors that plague her life. We are lead to believe that tales of Beryl’s ruthless pursuit of unattainable men and her shocking disregard for friendships and pubic decorum are concoctions fostered by gossips and society vigilantes. I don’t think so. There are too many witnesses, too many friends, too many sources and biographers who paint Beryl as an opportunist with little regard for the feelings of others.
So I find McClain’s portrait of Beryl nearly impossible to accept, and I find it hard to believe that McClain actually holds Beryl in such pristine regard. She (McClain), after all, has read the same bios and articles I have. McClain tells us that she found a kinship with Beryl because she, too, was abandoned by her mother at an early age, only to have her own mother reappear when she was in her 20’s in the same way that Beryl’s mother did. So then, hmmmm . . . perhaps McClain has over identified with her character, and the Beryl she has created is mythologized in a way that is untrue to her and also unfair to Beryl and to us, the readers. Beryl’s true merits and accomplishments are well worth exploring and celebrating, and I believe she can be viewed as a more complex character and still a sympathetic character when the dark side of her personality is part of the narrative.
Interestingly enough, I came across an article in Town and Country magazine “An Insanely Glamorous Love Triangle” written by McClain herself in which she says,
"The mystery of the woman [Beryl] herself is only deepened by her writing— lyrical descriptions of paradise layered with pointed subterfuge. Instead of exposing the things that hurt her—her mother, for instance, or her father's betrayal—she romanticizes the difficulties of the natural world and of Green Hills, her father's farm, faultless as any Eden before the Fall."
Really? Yes, the descriptions are lyrical, but Beryl does not describe her father’s farm as an African paradise. And the purpose of West With The Night is not to provide an expose of her “damaged” childhood. It is rather a celebration of the life she embraced in Africa, both the good and the bad. Her vignettes are a collection of stories about encounters and friendships with the land, the animals, and the people around her.
In speaking of Karen, Denys, and Beryl, in the article Markham says, “These three were not simple people. And if they were cagey and difficult sometimes—unreliable narrators of their own lives—even so I can find something to admire in it.”
She goes on to say, “These shadows aren't visible in Out of Africa, which mythologizes Finch Hatton and over-perfects their love story.”
Those of us who have read Karen’s Out of Africa know that Karen and Denys’ love affair is not portrayed at all in her writings. Denys is only a marginal character because that is not what her book is about. Out of Africa, like West With The Night, is a collection of stories about one woman’s encounters with the African world and the people in it.
So, sorry, Ms. McClain, but I feel you are the unreliable story teller, not Ms. Dinesen or Ms. Markham. I can only appreciate and applaud a historical character brought to life when I feel it is an honest depiction. I don’t think your depiction of Beryl is an honest depiction.
Waxwings do not occur in Africa. Its unlikely a teenage girl would fit down a warthog burrow, let alone for three days. Owls do not have striped claws. These and other tiny slipups, while unimportant, do reveal a writer who has not had any in-depth involvement in Africa.
In her favour, however, the writing gets more real towards the end, and her treatment of the infamous Idina Hay and her sordid dinner parties is quite masterful.
Its not bad.. but it is more cheap romance than detailed historical memoir.
But that having been said, CIRCLING THE SUN is a genuine page turner. It’s fun to read and you will learn a lot about a lot of different things along the way.
Top reviews from other countries
Some glaring mistakes:
Pg 23 - Wheat thriving at Njoro - Delamere (their neighbour) abandoned wheat growing due to rust and fungus.
Pg 45 - Mrs Elkington had the kitchen toto baking honey cakes, for Beryl every day. The kitchen toto never touched the food, he was the kitchen drudge washing pots, cleaning shoes etc. In the hierarchy of servants, he was the lowest under the strict instruction of the cook. Laughable!!
Pg 82 - The fish soup - "a thin broth with turbot, potatoes and leeks". What? Fish on their Njoro farm for supper, especially Turbot from the North Atlantic. Farmers shot for the pot, usually gazelle, zebra or guinea fowl. Home grown vegetables and stiff mealie meal (sudsa) would accompany most meals. A treat would be roast chicken or lamb.
Pg 158- The description of Berkley Cole's home on the slopes of Mount Kenya, "a winding river surrounded by thorn trees and twisting yellow witch hazel". Witch hazel is a native species of North America.
Pg 200 - Dinner with Karen Blixen and Denys in their home - Turbot with blanched baby lettuce in a hollandaise sauce. Really!! I guess Denys being a hunting man would have preferred meat and potatoes, perhaps a roast?
Pg 219 - Nell (Lady Eleanor Cole) described as small and dark without intelligence. I remember chatting with Eleanor Cole then an old lady in her eighties, an intelligent woman with a good sense of humour. Nell had large blue eyes, silvery grey hair (natural colour probably dark blonde) and a fair skin.
Pg 220 - Xmas food - Cranberry sauce and roast chestnuts in Africa? More American fantasy.
Pg 251- Arriving in Mombasa, facing the ship on the hill were pink and yellow bungalows with pale green tin roofs and fat purple baobab trees. Fact - The bungalows in Mombasa were lime washed with Makuti (palm thatch) roofs. The colonial houses were lime washed with terracota roof tiles. Was she fantasizing about some Caribbean island?
Pg 296 - The best was saved for last - Beryl decides to ride out on a wet night during the rainy season, to take a track through the Aberdare forest to Solio (Berkley Cole's home). A journey of 35 miles. Firstly, no white person would venture out after dark on rutted tracks through a thick bamboo forest known, to harbour criminals and outcasts. In the pitch dark, chancing your horse won't twist his foot, in a hole or snare. Never mind wild forest creatures such as snakes, leopards, warthogs etc.
There is a lack of attention to detail throughout the book. The true story of Beryl is a simple one. Beryl was brought up by her father, treated like a boy, grew up thinking and behaving like a man. She was devoid of emotion and feminity. Sex was the bargaining tool to get what she wanted from men. As a man user she traded in each man when his use was finished. For the public school man probably a closet gay, this type of woman made the perfect partner. Everyone could do their own thing. Diana Delamere was another famous man user trading up till she reached her ultimate man the then Lord Delamere.
other wise a great book about a fascinating character .