Beryl Markham, born Clutterbuck, grew up in Kenya, then a British colony, in the 1920s. She became the first woman in Britain to obtain a horse trainer license and was the first woman in the world to obtain a commercial aviator license. She led a rather scandalous love life refusing to follow the role then assigned to women in society. She married twice, though the love of her life was Denys Finch Hatton, hunter, aviator and free-spirit, who was having a relationship with Karen Blixen—writer of the memoir Out of Africa.
Circling the Sun is biographical fiction, but it certainly has the feel of a memoir. Paula McLain starts describing Beryl upbringing by her father and without the love of her mother, who abandoned both. We get to know the Beryl who played with kikuyu boys and learned to hunt, jump, and live like a warrior boy since she was a young girl.
Beryl Markham lived a life worth living in spite of her scandalous choices in love: two failed marriages, two lovers and a few unfairly attributed love affairs (two of them with royals) did much to mar the image of a woman who broke barriers in everything she ever attempted.
Paula McLain did a remarkable job drawing out the characters—all the British expatriates who lived in Kenya at the time—as well as the place. The Kenya of the 1920s shone under McLain pen, so much so, that it could be considered one more character in the story: the wild beauty of the place, the small community of expatriates that made Kenya feel more a village than a vast country, the gossip, the endless exchange of couples due to the intricate relationships between the British expats.
DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free Galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.