Circling the Sun

Circling the SunCircling the Sun by Paula McLain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Early in this novel, young English expatriate Beryl Markham (nee Clutterbuck) is almost eaten by a lion. Paddy is kept on a neighbor's property and considered tame, but her father knows better: "he can only be exactly what he is, what his nature dictates, and nothing else." She already has been abandoned in Kenya by her mother, taught more about horses than society by her father, and befriended by a Kipsigi warrior and his son, Kibii.

She longs to be a warrior, too, but has been told it is impossible for a girl. Besides, says her friend, no one would ever know about her triumphs. "I would," she says. "Where's the glory in that?" he asks.

Young Beryl goes on to achieve many bold triumphs, and the world comes to know them. She becomes the first woman to be certified as a horse trainer (and thoroughbred breeder, with Kibii, now a warrior named Ruta). She becomes the first professional female pilot in Africa. Like the lion whose scars she bears, she can be sociable, she can do what others expect, but she can not deny her own wild nature -- not in the world of horses, not in the air, and not in love.

Thrice-married, she and Karen Blixen formed two sides of a love triangle with the doomed aviator, Denys Finch Hatton, whose death drove Karen Blixen back to Denmark, where she became Isak Dinesen and enchanted the world with Out of Africa. His death drove Beryl into the sky, where this novel begins, as she becomes the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.

Much of the novel takes place in and around Nairobi during the 1920s. The Happy Valley expatriates are contrasted with the lives of the farmers, animal breeders, and hunters who claimed the land for England. They may have been fooled if they they thought Africa could be tamed. Like the hungry lion, land and people will always retain their true and best nature.

The reader will be entranced, horrified, and engaged fully while reading this book - and after.

I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review, and in physical form from Random House. Thanks to both. 

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