Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Circling the Sun is a historical fiction novel about the life of Beryl Markham. As this was only on my radar because it was the book for the adult reading group at my library this month and I was required to read it because I have to host the discussion, I went into it with no expectations or knowledge about the character. It wasn’t until I had finished the book that I realized that it was based upon a real person rather than being completely made up characters. As I was unfamiliar with the person that this book was based upon, I cannot speak to how factual or accurate the book ended up being.
Beryl Markham was a woman who grew up in Africa, from the time it was broken up into colonies by the various European countries through each African country’s independence. This was a coming of age story, set predominantly around the era of colonialism. It was not a time of woman’s rights, yet Beryl Markham was quite the feminist – becoming the first female licensed horse trainer and then obtaining her pilot’s license and flying across the Atlantic. She led an incredible life, although that is not generally what this book focused upon. It was a historical fiction novel that was predominantly a romance and was focused on her romantic entanglements rather than her other achievements.
According to the individuals at the reading group, some of whom were quite familiar with the historical figure – this book was not a good representation of the woman. They highly recommended the book written by Beryl herself: West with the Night, which was even lauded by Ernest Hemingway – rather than reading this account.
Even though I do not typically read historical fiction, I enjoyed this book when viewed through the lens that it is fiction. I cannot speak to its accuracy, nor how that may have affected my enjoyment. I appreciated the time given to the horse training, as I found it incredibly interesting – whereas I tended to drift off when reading yet another bad romantic decision being made by Beryl. The flying aspect of her life was only briefly touched upon and I wish there had been more to it. She did incredible things throughout her life, although this book only briefly touched upon them.
It was definitely a romance with the coming of age theme, rather than a historical fiction chronicling the life of a woman who accomplished many great things.
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