The noted pilot, Beryl Markham, is just four years old when her mother leaves her in Africa with her father. That loss and her unconventional upbringing in the British colony there leads her into an early and disappointing marriage at sixteen and several notorious affairs. She defies gender role expectations throughout her life, becoming a horse-trainer and bush pilot, the first female to do so.
“I had forged her myself, out of brokenness, learning to love wildness instead of fearing it. To thrive on the exhilaration of the hunt, charging headlong into the world even—or especially—when it hurt to do it.”
She marries a second time and has a fragile child, who must be left behind in England with her now estranged husband (Markham) and monster-in-law when she returns to Kenya, the place she considers home.
Her life coincides with that of Karen Blixen (“Out of Africa”). She even has a long running romance with Blixen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton. So you see Beryl’s life is anything but orthodox.
Circling the Sun is beautifully written. Author Paula McLain allows the reader to feel what Beryl feels when she’s training, riding and watching horses. Markham intuits what is needed, a skill that makes her a natural as a pilot.
If you love stories of strong women–or loved “Out of Africa”– you should definitely add this one to your “to read” list. You might also consider West with the Night a memoir by Markham herself and Straight on Till Morning, by Mary S. Lovell. I’ve just added them to mine.
“There are things we find only at our lowest depths. The idea of wings and then wings themselves. An ocean worth crossing one dark mile at a time. The whole of the sky. And whatever suffering has come is the necessary cost of such wonders, as Karen once said, the beautiful thrashing we do when we live.”