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19 September 2015

Paula McLain: Circling the Sun: A Novel

A remarkable tale about a remarkable woman
Paula McLain's story revisits the scene of Out of Africa with a fictional biography of the life of Beryl Markham, a record-setting female aviator who was the first person to fly solo from east to west across the Atlantic from Europe to America.

Beryl was born in England but brought to Kenya by her parents as a child. Abandoned by her mother who returns to England, Beryl grows up in a wild environment of Kenya, playing with the local natives. As she matures her unconventional upbringing and love of horses sets her on a path to become the first woman in Kenya to qualify as a horse trainer.

Financial and personal problems thrust Beryl into a loveless marriage and she only discovers herself when she is able to break out of that arrangement. This is all set amid the background of the frequently decadent life of English ex patriots living in Kenya in the 1920's. She meets with Karen Blixen (who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic tale Out of Africa) and is attracted to Karen's lover, safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton, She not only discovers the personal love of her eventful life but also her long-term love for flying.

The book is set against the magnificent wild country of 1920's Africa, and the growth of Nairobi into a major city. It is a powerful and frequently emotional tale of historical fiction about an amazing independent woman who was really ahead of her time. This is an extraordinary story that I would strongly recommend to the most discerning reader of historical fiction.

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