Circling the Sun (McLain)

Circling the Sun 
Paula McLain, 2015
Random House
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345534200



Summary
Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s.

Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance.

But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules.

But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1965
Where— Fresno, California, USA
Education—M.F.A., University of Michigan
Currently—lives in Cleveland, Ohio


Paula McLain is an American author best known for her novel, The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage. That work became a long-time New York Times bestseller. Her 2015 novel centering on female aviator Beryl Markham was released to excellent reviews in 2015. 

McLain has also published two collections of poetry in 1999 and 2005, a memoir about growing up in the foster system in 2003, and the novel A Ticket to Ride in 2008.

McLain was born in Fresno, California. Her mother vanished when she was four, and her father was in and out of jail, leaving McLain and her two sisters (one older, one younger) to move in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years. It was an ordeal described in her memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses.

When she aged out of the system, McLain supported herself by working in various jobs before discovering she could write. Eventually, she received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan and has been a resident of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony as well as the recipient of fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

She lives in Cleveland with her family. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/19/2015.)



Book Reviews
Enchanting.... A worthy heir to Dinesen, McLain will keep you from eating, sleeping, or checking your e-mail—though you might put these pages down just long enough to order airplane tickets to Nairobi.... Like Africa as it’s so gorgeously depicted here, this novel will never let you go.
Boston Globe
 

Richly textured.... McLain has created a voice that is lush and intricate to evoke a character who is enviably brave and independent.
NPR
 

McLain succeeds in bringing the past to life, and by the last pages, readers will hate to say goodbye to such an irresistible narrator.
Miami Herald
 

Markham is a novelist’s dream.... McLain riffs on the facts, creating a wonderful portrait of a complex woman who lived—defiantly—on her own terms. (Book of the Week)
People


(Starred review.) McLain's latest showcases her immersive command of setting and character.... [Beryl] Markham's true life was incredibly adventurous, and it's easy for readers to identify with this woman who refused to be pigeonholed by her gender. Readers will enjoy taking in the rich world McLain has created.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Famed aviator and renowned racehorse trainer Beryl Markham is only one of the subjects of McLain's captivating new novel. The other is Kenya, the country that formed the complicated, independent woman whom Markham would become.... [An] intriguing window into the soul of a woman who refused to be tethered. —Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL
Library Journal


(Starred review.) A full-throttle dive into the psyche and romantic attachments of Beryl Markham—whose 1936 solo flight across the Atlantic in a two-seater prop plane...transfixed the world.... [T]he young woman McLain explores...is more boxed in by class, gender assumptions, and self-doubt than her reputation as aviatrix, big game hunter, and femme fatale suggests.... [S]parkling prose and sympathetic reimagining.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. At the beginning of the book, Beryl reflects that her father’s farm in Njoro was “the one place in the world I’d been made for.” Do you feel this is a fitting way to describe Beryl’s relationship with Kenya, too? Did she seem more suited–more made for–life there than the others in her circle? Is there a place in your life that you would describe the same way?

2. While it is clear he loved his daughter, do you feel Beryl’s father was a good parent? Do you think Beryl would have said he was? Did you sympathize with him at any point?

3. Beryl is forced to be independent from a very young age. How do you think this shaped her personality (for better or for worse)?

4. After Jock’s drunken attack, D fires Beryl and sends her away. Do you understand his decision? Despite all the philandering and indulgent behaviors of the community, do you feel it’s fair that Beryl was being judged so harshly for the incident?

5. How would you describe Beryl and Denys’s relationship? In what ways are they similar souls? How does their first encounter–outside, under the stars at her coming out party–encapsulate the nature of their connection?

6. Karen and Beryl are two strong, iconoclastic women drawn to the same unobtainable man. Do you understand how Beryl could pursue Denys even though he was involved with Karen? Did you view the friendship between the women as a true one, despite its complications?

7. Why do you believe the author chose the title Circling the Sun? Does it bring to mind a particular moment from the novel or an aspect of Beryl’s character?

8. When Beryl is quite young, she reflects that “softness and helplessness got you nothing in this place.” Do you agree with her? Or do you think Beryl placed too much value on strength and independence?

9. When Beryl becomes a mother herself, she is determined not to act as her own mother did. Do you feel she succeeds? How does motherhood spur her decision to exchange horse training for flying? Could you identify with this choice?

10. After Paddy the lion attacks Beryl, Bishon Singh says, “Perhaps you were never meant for him.” Do you think that Beryl truly discovered what she was meant for by the end of the novel?
(Questions from the author's website..)

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