Circling The Sun Book Review

Circling The Sun: Book Review by Arlene
5 out of 5 stars


The life of Beryl Markham is intricately woven for us in this very readable novel by Paula McLain. Once again, as in The Paris Wife, McLain succeeds in creating a novel, based on the life of a remarkable, complex woman who lived in a time period of history where women were held to a standard below their capabilities and intelligence.

Beryl Markham broke through those bonds on her own terms. She was smart, strong, courageous and defiant because she had to be starting at a very young age. Paula McClain captures her story and grips you all the way through this novel and doesn’t let go.

As Newsday states, “Circling The Sun” soars.

Beryl is brought to Africa from England in the early 1920’s by her parents who were dreaming of a new life there. Her mother cannot adjust and after 2 years leaves Africa with Beryl’s younger brother leaving Beryl with her father. Beryl was not yet 5.

Beryl’s father owns a horse farm which becomes very successful raising racing horses and as Beryl grows she loves Africa and the farm and becomes a very accomplished horse trainer. In 1919 Beryl is now 16.

Circling The Sun Book Review

As her life evolves she marries a very domineering man at this very early age. Eventually not being able to tolerate this stifling life any longer she leaves this marriage. At this point she has her horse trainer license. She had her England’s Trainer License until 1925.

She was the only 18 year old horse trainer possible in the world at this time and becomes known for her success in training winning racing horses.

I can think of so many points of interest in Beryl’s life…her career, her relationships that she grew away from, including her own son when she was forced to leave him with his father when she left that marriage which tormented her throughout her lifetime, her lifelong friendship with Arap Ruta and her relationship with the love of her life Denys who gets her to fly and her love of Africa itself.

Through the novel, as I read along, Africa came alive for me also!!

When you read a novel of this scope, it is hard to encapsulate all the experiences of the central character, in this instance a real person, because so many intricately woven parts of this life come to mind. I found as I was reading and had to put the book down I could not wait to get back to it!

The latter part of the book brings you to Beryl’s life as she leaves her horses and as she becomes a famed aviator.

Paula McLain Circling The Sun

As a young girl in Africa, without her mother, Beryl is confronted with many issues. She learns how to become her own woman and this attitude towards life stays with her until the end.

As People (Book of the Week) states: “Famed aviator Beryl Markham is a novelist’s dream.. A wonderful portrait of a complex woman who lived – defiantly – on her own terms.”

The Boston Globe says “Enchanting…a worthy heir to Dinesen…Like Africa as it’s so gorgeously depicted here, this novel will never let you go.”

One of the things that really stood out for me was when at a young age, Beryl stayed at a farm where lions roamed free and she was brutally attacked by a lion and she survived. After that her surroundings made her feel invincible and she could survive anything life threw at her. She did survive and so much more!

After her first solo flight in June 1931 Beryl Markham quickly went on to become one of the first women ever granted a professional B license. She became a bush pilot and worked on numerous safaris. In 1936 , after 21 hours of flying she succeeded in her record breaking voyage across the Atlantic. she made every significant headline in the states.

There were so many women in Beryl’s life that impacted her as she grew into a woman. These women were an interesting part of her journey and she loved them even though women of this time period were so much not like her…her free spirit held her close to what she dreamed of and gave her the courage to forge ahead.

Circling The Sun A Novel

Scandal and speculation followed Beryl for much of her life. Thoughts on this book came to mind for me from a statement toward the very end of the book…

Everything was momentary and endless. Meaning for me – Our experiences and lives are momentary but last forever in our memories.

How our lives turn and turn. Things come that we never would have predicted for ourselves or even guessed at and yet they change us forever.

I love these thoughts so I will end here and I hope I successfully piqued your interest in reading about this remarkable woman’s life through the eyes and talent of Paula McClain.


Are you part of a book group or book club? Check out Circling The Sun Book Club Discussion Questions.

12 thoughts on “Circling The Sun Book Review

    1. Hello William I really enjoyed reading this novel and I was so glad to have the opportunity to learn about Beryl Markham’s extraordinary life. I appreciate your positive comments on my reviews and will keep trying to pick some good books for our readers to enjoy. Thank You!!

  1. I believe this is a novel that I would enjoy reading. She sounds like a very strong woman with an exciting life. I hope this book has a happy ending. Thanks for the review!

    1. Hi Yvonne I enjoyed reading Circling The Sun because it was, in my opinion, a very well researched historical novel. It brought her life to the page and I found it very interesting and it gave me an appreciation of her personality and her strengths. She accomplished much during her life and overcame obstacles many would find unbeatable. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for your comments!

  2. Wow, this book sounds absolutely breath-taking. I like the sound of it being written so beautifully and learning so much about this leading lady’s life… especially as she really knows how to face life head on and take it as it comes at her. You have to be able to appreciate something like that. I mean, surviving a lion attack and feeling the way she does afterwards? That’s definitely something!

    1. Hi Olivia Your comments on Circling The Sun really say it all. Beryl Markham did face life head on and did things her way. She faced many conflicts and life changing decisions and succeeded in marking the way for generations of women to come. After reading her life story at the pen of Paula McClain I truly appreciate her life’s journey and her courageous accomplishments. Thanks !

  3. Hello Arlene –
    I love your reviews. They are informative and presented in a manner that helps me decide if this is a book for me. As for “Circling the Sun”, it sounds like a strong main character and an intriguing plot – a must read!
    Thanks so much – Brian

    1. Hello Brian
      Thank you so much for your positive comments on my reviews! I do try to be honest and give a complete overview without giving it all away. If you have a chance to read Circling The Sun I do hope you enjoy it. I appreciate your views.

    1. Hello Erica
      Beryl Markham lived her life to the fullest through one adversity after another and she achieved remarkable accomplishments. Her life was complex and interesting . I enjoyed reading this book and I hope you do too. Thanks for you comments!

  4. It takes a real academic research mind to successfully taken a remarkable historical figure, like Beryl Markham, and weave an entertaining interpretation of her life in story form. The beautiful Africa setting and the life affirming memories are topics I would enjoy reading. Thanks for sharing, Arlene.

    1. Hi Lonna I totally agree with you on Paula Mclain’s ability to take her extensive research on Beryl Markham’s life and create this well written history of her life into an historical fiction novel worth reading. I always appreciate learning things I never would have known if I did not choose to read these books.
      Thanks for your comments!

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