Saturday, March 12, 2016
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
I discovered the Beryl Markham memoir -- along with everyone else in 1984 -- when West with the Night appeared, thanks to a small California Press. This new novel tells a much more detailed look at the first woman to acquire a class B horse training license in Africa, and the first woman to fly solo from England to Nova Scotia. Her prose is riveting – not suspenseful – but the kind of writing which will not let the reader go, always begging one more page, one more chapter. If I remember correctly, I read in a single night, finally closing the book as dawn approached.
Here is a sample of her writing as she describes Beryl’s distress as a child when her mother left Africa for another man, taking her son with her to England. McLain writes, “What [my father] wanted to know was if I could love this life as he did. If I could give my heart to this place, even if she never returned and I had no mother going forward, perhaps not ever. // How could I begin to answer? All around us, half-empty cupboards reminded me of the things that used to be there but weren’t any longer – four china tea cups with gold plated rims, a card game, amber beads clicking together on a necklace my mother had loved. Her absence was still so loud and so heavy, I ached with it, feeling hollow and lost. I didn’t know how to forget my mother any more than my father knew how to comfort me. He pulled me – long limbed and a little dirty, as I always seemed to be – onto his lap, and we sat like that quietly for a while. From the edge of the forest, a group of hyraxes echoed shrieks of alarm. One of our four greyhounds cocked a sleek ear and then settled back into comfortable sleep by the fire. Finally my father sighed. He scooped me under my arms, grazed my drying tears with a quick kiss, and set me on my own two feet” (14).
Beryl Markham not only gave her heart to Africa, but she gave a part of her soul, along with some blood. Paula McLain’s novel, Circling the Sun is a fascinating look at a strong, intelligent, and determined woman, who overcame tremendous obstacles. Read it now. 5 stars