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BookBrowse Reviews Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

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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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 384 pages
    May 2016, 400 pages


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Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain's powerful tale brings Beryl Markham to life.

Paula McClain's Circling the Sun is a dynamic portrait of Beryl Markham (see Beyond the Book), a woman true to her nature and ahead of her time. Twenty-three of 24 reviewers gave this riveting historical fiction a 4 or 5.

What are our readers saying about this adventurous tale?

Having read and enjoyed The Paris Wife, I was anxious to read Paula McLain's book on Beryl Markham. It did not disappoint! McLain captured Beryl the woman who interacted with her peers, family and royalty in foreign lands as we can hardly imagine. The trip was exciting. We were there through all the record-setting exploits and achievements and day-to-day life of a remarkable woman (Alyce T). Paula McLain has done it again, crafting a dynamic fictional account of an historical woman. From the very beginning of Beryl Markham's story of her childhood years in Africa, I was hooked (Nancy L). I read it straight through (Lesley F). The writing is flawless – reading this literature is like holding a strand of pearls in your hand – silky smooth and warm (Hazel R). I fancied Beryl as "the sun." Her life evolved, and thus rotated around herself, her friends and her loves (D.J. K). Success and scandal – it's all here in this portrayal of a woman who "charged headlong into the world even – or especially – when it hurt to do so." (Sue Ellen S)

Readers felt like they got an excellent glimpse of early 20th century Kenya, especially the dynamics between Africans and Europeans:

In the novel we get to hear the voice of Markham, meet her friends, understand the African-English society of the time, learn the difficulties of sustaining a living in Africa, and see the beauty of the continent (Barbara H). I found the portrayal of life in 1920s Kenya to be fascinating, especially the vast divide between the European settlers and the indigenous people (Nancy L). I found many surprises in Paula McLain's newest book, Circling the Sun. Not only did I learn of an exceptional, pioneering, adventurous woman, but I was able to make many comparisons to the expat lifestyle occurring with Brits in Africa, to the Americans living in Paris during the 1920s (Barbara H).

They also felt like McClain brought the story to life with just-right sensory details:

McClain has done an outstanding job of describing in detail things like the tangible feel of the horses as they trotted and raced, the smells of the paddocks, the rain, and even the taste of the salt flats (Nancy L). The writing is excellent with especially vivid descriptions of the people and places (Sandra G). You can see and feel the whole area through the descriptions of the topography, weather, wildlife, and people and how all are shaped by the environment (Brenda D).

Beryl Markham was a strong woman in a time when women weren't supposed to be strong, and McClain brings her beautifully to life:

Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman, not afraid to make her own way in a man's world. Her story is compelling and is well told by Paula McClain. This book will give this brave and pioneering woman a great deal of well-deserved visibility (Patricia W). Markham was a trailblazer and, having read Markham's autobiography, I feel that McClain successfully captures her personality and spirit (Karen B). It would be impossible to exaggerate any aspect of Beryl's life; she was one of a kind, infamous rather than famous, a freeloader and a free spirit, a woman who completely ignored all the conventions to get where she wanted to go. Her life makes for a cracking good story (Patricia T). Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman. She had the courage and initiative to become a renowned horse trainer and pilot at a time when these aspirations were unheard of for a female, and one cannot help but admire such a self-sufficient, free-spirited, and determined individual (Sandra G).

Finally, our readers recommend Circling the Sun to many kinds of people:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it is a perfect read for fans of Out of Africa (Brenda D). I hope my book club will read it because there is a lot for book clubs to discuss here (Andrea S). If you enjoy fictional depictions of real people, this story will keep you engrossed to the end (Wendy W). I recommend Circling the Sun to any reader interested in strong female characters, sweeping descriptions of beautiful African vistas, horses, or anyone who has succeed and failed and still able to retain their dignity until the end of their life (Amy G).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2015, and has been updated for the July 2016 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  A Glimpse of Beryl Markham

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