A Glimpse of Beryl Markham: Background information when reading Circling the Sun

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Circling the Sun

A Novel

by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain X
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 400 pages

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A Glimpse of Beryl Markham

This article relates to Circling the Sun

Print Review

Beryl MarkhamPaula McLain's new historical fiction, Circling the Sun is the story of Beryl Markham, an aviatrix whose incredible flight accomplishments took a back seat to the more famous Amelia Earhart. A number of books have tried to shine the light on this British daredevil who, in many ways, was ahead of her time – Straight on Till Morning by Mary Lovell, The Lives of Beryl Markham by Errol Trzebinski, and Markham's own book, West with the Night (which some say it was ghostwritten, a rumor that McLain says is both ridiculous and insulting) – and McLain's tribute does this too, highlighting the rebellious nature of Markham; her own brand of feminism that speaks both to why she stood out in her time and how she is relatable today.

A few facts about Beryl Markham, for those who know very little about her:

She was born on October 26, 1902 in England, but moved to Kenya (then British East Africa) with her family when she was four. Her mother moved back to England with her brother, and she stayed with her father on their farm. She was an adventurous child – a trait that only grew as she got older – and she spent much of her time exploring Kenya, hunting with her indigenous friends. She also developed a fondness and skill around horses, and ended up being the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya.

Markham was also an adventurer in terms of personal relationships. She had many of them – three husbands and many more lovers – and it was only when she met Tom Campbell Black, a veteran of the Royal Air Force who won (with partner C.W.A. Scott) the London to Melbourne Centenary Air Race in 1934, that she wanted to settle down with one person.

Black inspired Markham's interest in flying. He had initially moved to Kenya to farm, but ended up establishing the country's first commercial air service. Black was Markham's flight instructor and in 1931 she became a licensed pilot. Markham worked as a bush pilot for a while, spotting game animals from the air for safaris going on below. Her most famous flight was on September 5, 1936 when she attempted to be the first person to fly from Europe to New York solo (the westbound journey is more challenging due to the prevailing winds). She had to crash land in Nova Scotia, Canada so missed out on the title of first person to New York but was the first woman to cross the Atlantic East to West solo.

Beryl Markham lived in America and England, but later returned to Kenya to live out the rest of her life. She died on August 3, 1986.

Beryl Markham, courtesy of Mu.

This "beyond the book article" relates to Circling the Sun. It originally ran in July 2015 and has been updated for the May 2016 paperback edition.

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