Circling The Sun Book Review
By Alexis Mercer
It has been a while since the last book review, which is a direct reflection of the crazy pace of my life - the pace at a speed not unlike American Scott Fauble’s recent 7th place finish (1st American) at the Boston Marathon. He ran 2:09.10 for 26.2 miles, which averages less than 5 minute miles the entire race. Soak that in. I considered comparing my recent life to Usain Bolt’s speed, but the pace continues over a much longer time frame than 100 meters - so instead I’ll use the asinine pace held by the marathoner for a much longer time frame.
The great news is that I was fortunate enough to sneak away to the Keys for a week with my family - allowing for some desperately needed down time. Some of which I even got to spend reading.
One of the three books I devoured was Circling The Sun by Paula McLain. This book hooked me prior to even page one. Instead it was the quotes before the prologue that pulled me in.
“I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know - that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it. These I learned at once. But most things come harder.” Beryl Markham - West With The Night
“We must leave our mark on life while we have it in our power.” Karen Blixen
The protagonist of the story is Beryl Markham. The reader begins with her childhood as she and her family move to Africa from England to build a farm from the dust. But Beryl’s mother is not cut out for this rugged lifestyle - so she deserts Beryl and her husband, bringing Beryl’s brother with her back to England. And so begins Beryl’s wild, free, roaming childhood. She is a child of the land; her best friend a boy from the nearby Kipsigis tribal village, a warrior in the making.
Beryl’s atypical rearing shapes her into a curious adolescent - not suited for traditional schooling or interest in marrying as most young ladies of her time. The remainder of the book weaves through the adult life of the strong-willed, fascinating woman who becomes the first female with a proper English horse training license. Of her wild success in her professional life and devastating losses in her personal life.
I found myself actually holding my breath a few times from being so engrossed in the story - wishing she wasn’t making some of the choices she did - having the distinct feeling it was all going to end so badly. And yet knowing her free spirit couldn’t make any other choices as she was destined for greatness regardless of the cost.
All of these life experiences and relationships she endures through the book lead her to a final career: flying planes. The book ends true to her spirit as built throughout the previous pages. I felt as if I would have loved knowing Beryl had she been a real person and not just in the pages of fiction.
You’ll imagine my surprise when I finished the last page and turned to the Author’s Notes at the end to learn that Beryl was real. This incredible story - though still fiction - was based entirely on the real life of the woman who accomplished the feats written about. And in fact, that this woman had written her own account of her life in the pages of a book called West With The Night (from which the quote at the beginning was taken). Ernest Hemingway even praised Markham’s memoir after having met her on safari in Kenya in 1934 and having read it himself.
An already fascinating, enthralling tale was made even more so knowing this pioneer of a woman paved her way through adventure and territory unknown as described in the pages of Circling The Sun.
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