I’m off for three glorious days and have somehow managed to finish three books this past week. This is not the norm, so don’t get used to more than two posts a week!
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain was one of those books that has been on my to-read pile for a while and I just kept putting it off. I’d read McLain’s The Paris Wife and was a fan but for some reason this one just wasn’t drawing me in. I finally decided I had to give it a go or it would fall into “my to be read, by never will be” file.
Circling the Sun is an insight into colonial Kenya–circa 19020’s. The story follows Beryl, an English woman, from her early childhood to her late twenties. Beryl arrives in Kenya with her family–Father, Mother and brother–in the hopes of building a successful farm in it’s wilds.
After only two years Beryl’s mother gives up on the endeavor and takes her brother back to England, leaving Beryl in the care of her father. Coping with the lost of her mother Beryl forms a bond with the local Kipsigis tribe and she grows up as no English girl has before. Beryl can run, jump, kill birds with slingshots, she has birthed and raised horses; she was brought up in a wild mans world without a mother’s or even a woman’s influence.
This is fine until her father hires a woman to work for them and Beryl’s wild behavior is slowly put down and frowned upon. Not knowing any other way to live Beryl revolts and her entire life is a constant battle against what she should do and being true to herself.
Circling the Sun is a fictional telling of the life of the real Beryl Markham, writer of her memoir West with the Night and the first female to fly from England to the United States in an airplane. This book is supposed to be a window into colonial Kenya, colonial being the operative word. We hardly get any of the politics or controversies of the time. What we do get is a first class view of how rampant gossip and scandal were–along with an obvious view of the rights of women in the 1920’s. You sort of need to know this going into the book or else you may have some preconceived notions.
I will say, one thing this book did excel at was it’s descriptions of Kenya itself. The way McLain wrote about it’s wild, untouched beauty was stunning. You could really picture the terrain and she made you want to see it yourself. She did the same with the sky. McLain made the sky seem like an untouched exotic place, even though modern readers see and fly in airplanes every day.
Beryl was an interesting character but there were so many side characters I liked better. But I did respect that McLain gave Beryl this unyielding character and although she often kept the peace, she was undeniable committed to herself. Although, I swear every other chapter had one person or another tell Beryl that, “if she needed anything, she should just ask.” Every time I heard this line I cringed. Once or twice, I get it, but almost every person she meets offers to do something for her and yet she is always down and out.
I wasn’t overly impressed with this book. It took me a long to time get through and I didn’t find myself wanting to pick it up every chance I got. Not a bad read but not as good as The Paris Wife.
That’s all for now!