Tuesday, 28 July 2015

"Circling the Sun" by Paula McLain | Book Review

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Beryl's family moves to Kenya when she is a young girl but, unable to deal with the drastic change, her mother abandons them and returns to England with Beryl's brother. As a result, she is raised by her racehorse-trainer father, as well as the neighbouring Kipsigis tribe. She grows up to be a very strong-willed individual, figuring out what she wants and how to achieve it - and then does just that.

I didn't realize it before I started reading the novel, but Beryl Markham was a real person. Paula McLain drew inspiration from Beryl's autobiography, West with the Night, and delves into her personal life and the fascinating relationships she had with many interesting people, Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen included.

I found Beryl to be such an interesting, complex character. She has an unbreakable spirit, determination, and a sense of adventure. When she put her mind to something, there was no stopping her. During the early 1900's, when Beryl's story takes place, there were so many set gender roles - she had no interest in many of them, and went right ahead with her own goals and dreams. She made her own path.

Through hard work, perseverance, and a keen intuition when it came to horses, she became the first female licensed horse trainer in Kenya, and later became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.

While it can certainly be said that Beryl made some bad decisions particularly when it came to love and marriage, she accepted those mistakes, learned from them, and kept going. When she made a hasty decision, there were huge consequences and she dealt with the weight of such a big mistake. As her story unfolded, I really came to love Beryl and her unflinching spirit - she has such fire in her and doesn't let anyone tell her she can't do something. One of the things I appreciate most about her is that she feels fear but doesn't let it stop her.

The imagery and descriptions of the scenery are amazing. I felt like I was there in Kenya with the characters, experiencing everything they were, from the weather and wildlife to the architecture and fashions. At the Paula McLain and Elizabeth Hay Blogger Reception last month, Paula told me she visited Kenya after writing Circling the Sun, which kind of blows my mind because she describes it so beautifully.

The story includes some words and phrases written in Swahili, so at some points I had to look up the words to get the image right in my mind, which I found to be a good learning experience - I liked being able to learn about a different culture.

Through Beryl's story, we see how WWI had an effect on everyone - the soldier who returned, those who lost loved ones, the people affected by the horse conscriptions...everyone. It was eye-opening to see how far-reaching the effects of the war were.

It was such a pleasure to read this story - I was introduced to an incredible woman in history and I was able to learn about her achievements and relationships. The writing is beautiful and it really brought these people, as well as Kenya, to life for me. Circling the Sun is without doubt one of my favourite books of 2015 so far, and I can't recommend it enough.

Circling the Sun is now available. You can purchase it now from Indigo or for your Kobo.

*This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

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