Circling the Sun – A confession and a review

I have a confession to make, and for most of those who know me, you won’t be very surprised.

I’m not an adventurous person. There, I said it.

When I was a teen and young woman I read two authors religiously – Agatha Christie and Sidney Sheldon. I wouldn’t read anything else for fear that I wouldn’t enjoy it. I made an exception for The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, which I read several times, over and over again.

Eventually, I ran out of books by my then-favorite authors and either had to branch out or give up reading altogether. So, I dipped my toe in the reading pool, but remained cautious. I would find one author I liked and would read everything I could find written by that particular author, and, over time, I eventually built up a decent-sized stable of reliable authors.

Recently, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and picked up a book by an author I had never read, feeling sure I wouldn’t make it past the first chapter. I was proven wrong (admittedly, not for the first time).

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Paula McLain pulled me into her novel, Circling the Sun, with a net made of gossamer so fine I couldn’t even feel the pull. The description of the flight in the prologue remained in the back of my mind for the duration of the novel, leaving me unsure of the type of ending I was going to encounter.

The novel succeeded in grabbing and holding my attention because of two elements. First of all, I was thrown into a country which I have never visited, but through Ms. McLain’s descriptions of Africa in the 1920s and 30s I felt I was there with her protagonist. The setting was weaved into the story in such a way that you didn’t feel like it was being spoon-fed to you. It was simply there, surrounding you.

The second element, which always succeeds in catching my interest, is the fact that the novel is based on a real-life person, Beryl Markham. I had never heard of this woman, but I am fascinated when an author takes a less-than-famous person and fictionalizes his or her life, using what little information is known about them to create an intriguing novel.

In this case, Beryl’s story of her successes and her defeats is captivating reading. Always keeping in mind that the novel is based on a true story makes it even more engrossing. Beryl lives a life which would be unusual enough in our present time, but living it during those decades would be virtually unheard of. Her strength of character, her determination, and her fearlessness were qualities which were not generally encouraged in young women in that time and place. Her talents, firstly with horses, and then with airplanes, were nothing short of remarkable.

I would like to thank Paula McLain for entertaining me with her excellent story and writing techniques, and also for teaching me to be a little more fearless in my reading selections. However, I will be falling back on my old habit of reading authors I’m familiar with at least one more time. I’ve discovered that Ms. McLain has a few other novels…

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