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Circling the Sun

Cover of Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun

A Novel
Borrow Borrow Borrow

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, BOOKPAGE, AND SHELF AWARENESS "Paula McLain is considered the new star of historical fiction, and for good reason. Fans of The Paris Wife will be captivated by Circling the Sun, which . . . is both beautifully written and utterly engrossing."—Ann Patchett, Country Living
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.

Praise for Circling the Sun

"In McLain's confident hands, Beryl Markham crackles to life, and we readers truly understand what made a woman so far ahead of her time believe she had the power to soar."—Jodi Picoult, author of Leaving Time

"Enchanting . . . a worthy heir to [Isak] Dinesen . . . Like Africa as it's so gorgeously depicted here, this novel will never let you go."The Boston Globe

"Famed aviator Beryl Markham is a novelist's dream. . . . [A] wonderful portrait of a complex woman who lived—defiantly—on her own terms."People (Book of the Week)

"Circling the Sun soars."Newsday

"Captivating . . . [an] irresistible novel."—The Seattle Times

"Like its high-flying subject, Circling the Sun is audacious and glamorous and hard not to be drawn in by. Beryl Markham may have married more than once, but she was nobody's wife."—Entertainment Weekly

"[An] eloquent evocation of Beryl's daring life."O: The Oprah Magazine

"Markham's life is the stuff of legend. . . . McLain has created a voice that is lush and intricate to evoke a character who is enviably brave and independent."NPR

"Bold, absorbing fiction."—New York Daily News

"Paula McLain has such a gift for bringing characters to life. I loved discovering the singular Beryl Markham, with all her strengths and passions and complexities."—Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You


From the...

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, BOOKPAGE, AND SHELF AWARENESS "Paula McLain is considered the new star of historical fiction, and for good reason. Fans of The Paris Wife will be captivated by Circling the Sun, which . . . is both beautifully written and utterly engrossing."—Ann Patchett, Country Living
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.

Praise for Circling the Sun

"In McLain's confident hands, Beryl Markham crackles to life, and we readers truly understand what made a woman so far ahead of her time believe she had the power to soar."—Jodi Picoult, author of Leaving Time

"Enchanting . . . a worthy heir to [Isak] Dinesen . . . Like Africa as it's so gorgeously depicted here, this novel will never let you go."The Boston Globe

"Famed aviator Beryl Markham is a novelist's dream. . . . [A] wonderful portrait of a complex woman who lived—defiantly—on her own terms."People (Book of the Week)

"Circling the Sun soars."Newsday

"Captivating . . . [an] irresistible novel."—The Seattle Times

"Like its high-flying subject, Circling the Sun is audacious and glamorous and hard not to be drawn in by. Beryl Markham may have married more than once, but she was nobody's wife."—Entertainment Weekly

"[An] eloquent evocation of Beryl's daring life."O: The Oprah Magazine

"Markham's life is the stuff of legend. . . . McLain has created a voice that is lush and intricate to evoke a character who is enviably brave and independent."NPR

"Bold, absorbing fiction."—New York Daily News

"Paula McLain has such a gift for bringing characters to life. I loved discovering the singular Beryl Markham, with all her strengths and passions and complexities."—Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You


From the...
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Awards-
Excerpts-
  • Chapter One Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet still somehow new, the name belonged only to our most magnificent mountain. You could see it from our farm in Njoro, in the British East African Protectorate—hard edged at the far end of a stretching golden plain, its crown glazed with ice that never completely melted. Behind us, the Mau Forest was blue with strings of mist. Before us, the Rongai Valley sloped down and away, bordered on one side by the strange, high Menengai Crater, which the natives called the Mountain of God, and on the other by the distant Aberdare Range, rounded blue-grey hills that went smoky and purple at dusk before dissolving into the night sky.

    When we first arrived, in 1904, the farm wasn't anything but fifteen hundred acres of untouched bush and three weather-beaten huts.

    "This?" my mother said, the air around her humming and shimmering as if it were alive. "You sold everything for this?"

    "Other farmers are making a go of it in tougher places, Clara," my father said.

    "You're not a farmer, Charles!" she spat before bursting into tears.

    He was a horseman, in fact. What he knew was steeplechasing and foxhunting and the tame lanes and hedgerows of Rutland. But he'd seen paper flyers hawking cheap imperial land, and an idea had latched on to him that wouldn't let go. We left Westfield House, where I was born, and travelled seven thousand miles, past Tunis and Tripoli and Suez, the waves like great grey mountains swallowing the sky. Then through Kilindini Harbour, in the port of Mombasa, which smelled of sharp spices and drying fish, and onto the snaking train bound for Nairobi, the windows boiling over with red dust. I stared at everything, completely thrilled in a way I hadn't remembered feeling before. Whatever this place was, it was like nothing and nowhere else.

    We settled in and worked to make our situation liveable, pushing against the wildness while the wildness pushed back with everything it had. Our land had no visible borders or fences, and our huts lacked proper doors. Silky, banded colobus monkeys climbed through the burlap sacking covering our windows. Plumbing was unheard of. When nature called, you walked out into the night with all the things that wanted to have at you and hung your derrière over a long-drop, whistling to keep your fear away.

    Lady and Lord Delamere were our nearest white neighbours, a seven-mile hack through the bush. Their titles didn't save them from sleeping in the typical mud-and-thatch rondavels. Lady D kept a loaded revolver under her pillow and advised my mother to do the same—but she wouldn't. She didn't want to shoot snakes or her dinner. She didn't want to drag water for miles to have anything like a decent bath, or to live without company for months at a time. There was no society. There was no way to keep her hands clean. Life was simply too hard.

    After two years, my mother booked a passage back to England. My older brother, Dickie, would go too, since he had always been frail and wouldn't weather Africa for very much longer. I had yet to turn five when they climbed aboard the twice-weekly train to Nairobi with steamer trunks and handkerchiefs and travelling shoes.

    The white feather in my mother's helmet trembled as she kissed me, telling me I should keep my chin up. She knew I'd be fine, since I was such a big strong girl. As a treat, she would send a box of liquorice allsorts and pear drops from a shop in Piccadilly that I wouldn't have to share with a soul.

    I watched the train recede along the still black line of the track, not quite believing she would actually go. Even when the last shuddering...
About the Author-
  • Paula McLain is the author of the novels The Paris Wife and A Ticket to Ride, the memoir Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses, and two collections of poetry. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Cleveland with her family.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 15, 2015
    McLain's (The Paris Wife) latest showcases her immersive command of setting and character, fictionalizing the exploits of real-life aviator and author Beryl Markham in British Kenya in the early 20th century. Beryl marries young when her father's fortunes fall, but is determined to strike out independently as a horse trainer, even though there are no female horse trainers and she's only in her late teens. She succeeds, though her marriage suffers, and finds herself drawn into a love triangle with famed hunter Denys Finch Hatton and writer Karen Blixen. While her successes in the horse-racing business increase, the scandal around her makes her flee to England for a while. Upon her return to Kenya, her need for freedom has further personal consequences, but also leaves her as the first professional female pilot in the world at a time when flying was exceptionally dangerous, and a record-setter for crossing the Atlantic. McLain paints an intoxicatingly vivid portrait of colonial Kenya and its privileged inhabitants. 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.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 1, 2015
    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 (carrying emergency fuel in the extra seat) transfixed the world. As conceived in this second historical by novelist McLain (The Paris Wife, 2011, etc.), Markham-nee Beryl Clutterbuck-is the neglected daughter of an impecunious racehorse trainer who fails to make a go at farming in British East Africa and a feckless, squeamish mother who bolts back to England with their older son. Set on her own two feet early, she is barely schooled but precociously brave and wired for physical challenges-a trait honed by her childhood companion Kibii (a lifelong friend and son of a local chief). In the Mau forest-"before Kenya was Kenya"-she finds a "heaven fitted exactly to me." Keeping poised around large mammals (a leopard and a lion also figure significantly) is in her blood and later gains her credibility at the racecourse in Nairobi, where she becomes the youngest trainer ever licensed. Statuesque, blonde, and carrying an air of self-sufficiency-she marries, disastrously, at 16 but is granted a separation to train Lord Delamere's bloodstock-Beryl turns heads among the cheerfully doped and dissolute Muthaiga Club set ("I don't know what it is about Africa, but champagne is absolutely compulsory here"), charms not one but two heirs to the British crown at Baroness Karen Blixen's soiree, and sets her cap on Blixen's lover, Denys Fitch Hatton. She'll have him, too, and much enjoyment derives from guessing how that script, and other intrigues, will play out in McLain's retelling. Fittingly, McLain has Markham tell her story from an altitude of 1,800 feet: "I'm meant to do this," she begins, "stitch my name on the sky." Popularly regarded as "a kind of Circe" (to quote Isak Dinesen biographer Judith Thurman), the young woman McLain explores owns her mistakes (at least privately) and is more boxed in by class, gender assumptions, and self-doubt than her reputation as aviatrix, big game hunter, and femme fatale suggests. Ernest Hemingway, who met Markham on safari two years before her Atlantic crossing, tagged her as "a high-grade bitch" but proclaimed her 1942 memoir West with the Night "bloody wonderful." Readers might even say the same of McLain's sparkling prose and sympathetic reimagining.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2015
    Doing what she did with such smashing success in "The Paris Wife", a portrait of Hadley Richardson's marriage to Ernest Hemingway backdropped by sparkling 1920s Paris, McLain retells the life of another dramatic figure of the era: Beryl Markham, horse trainer, adventurer, and aviator par excellence in far-off Kenya. Beryl survives her mother's abandonment and her father's eventual bankruptcy to become an unconventional force to be reckoned with in the insular British expat colony, forming a triangle with Karen Blixen and her lover Denys Finch Hatton while finding her true self in the skies.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Jodi Picoult, author of Leaving Time

    "Paula McLain is considered the new star of historical fiction, and for good reason. Fans of The Paris Wife will be captivated by Circling the Sun, which . . . is both beautifully written and utterly engrossing."--Ann Patchett, Country Living "Paula McLain cements herself as the writer of historical fictional memoir with Circling the Sun, giving vivid voice to Beryl Markham, a singular, extraordinary woman. In McLain's confident hands, Markham crackles to life, and we readers truly understand what made a woman so far ahead of her time believe she had the power to soar."

  • People (Book of the Week) "Enchanting . . . A worthy heir to [Isak] 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. . . . What's certain is that the reluctantly earthbound armchair reader will cherish this gift for the hidden adventurer in all of us. Like Africa as it's so gorgeously depicted here, this novel will never let you go."--The Boston Globe "Famed aviator Beryl Markham is a novelist's dream. . . . [A] wonderful portrait of a complex woman who lived--defiantly--on her own terms."
  • Newsday "Circling the Sun soars."
  • The Seattle Times "Captivating . . . [an] irresistible novel."
  • O: The Oprah Magazine "Like its high-flying subject, Circling the Sun is audacious and glamorous and hard not to be drawn in by. Beryl Markham may have married more than once, but she was nobody's wife."--Entertainment Weekly "[An] eloquent evocation of Beryl's daring life."
  • New York Daily News "Bold, absorbing fiction."
  • Good Housekeeping "Paula McLain has such a gift for bringing characters to life. I loved discovering the singular Beryl Markham, with all her strengths and passions and complexities, a woman who persistently broke the rules, despite the personal cost. She's a rebel in her own time, and a heroine for ours."--Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You"By the last pages, readers will hate to say goodbye to such an irresistible narrator."--Miami Herald"Paula McLain brings Beryl to glorious life, portraying a woman with a great many flaws that seem to result from her zest for life and inability to follow the roles expected of women in the 1920s and '30s."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Amelia Earhart gets all the airtime, but this pilot had the juicier past. . . . McLain crafts a story readers won't soon forget."
  • Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train "With a sharp eye for detail and style to spare, Paula McLain captures the nuances of complex relationships, the rigidity of social conventions, and the wide skies and breathtaking vistas of Africa."
  • Family Circle "Set in 1920s Kenya, this fictionalized history of the beautiful, high-flying aviator Beryl Markham is as luminous as its headstrong heroine. An exhilarating ride."
  • Liz Smith "Paula McLain is yet another twenty-first-century woman who can write rings around the hyper-masculine men who dominate so much of American fiction."
  • Shelf Awareness

    "McLain's skill at blending fact and fiction, which dazzled readers in The Paris Wife, is on full display. . . . Circling the Sun is a masterful story of hardship, courage and love."
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Paula McLain
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