Book Review: Circling the Sun


Record setting female aviator has bad taste in men.

Circling the Sun is the fictionalized story of real life aviator Beryl Markham. Raised in Kenya by her father and abandoned by her mother, Beryl comes of age in an unconventional way. She dismisses the traditional roles of a young girl and embraces her love of nature and works hard to become a horse trainer all while navigating a series of disastrous relationships with men. It isn’t until her life becomes intertwined with that of Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton that she realizes who and what she truly loves, but tragedy strikes.

We read this book as part of my monthly book club and it was my first novel by Paula McLain. Everyone in my group had enjoyed this, but preferred The Paris Wife overall. Prior to reading this I had never heard of Beryl Markham, and I found her story to be equally interesting and depressing. I thought it would be fun to read the perspective of someone living through the 20s (my favorite time period of historical fiction) but it read a lot like The Great Gatsby just set in Africa. The first third of this book I found quite interesting with her unconventional upbringing but then the book dove into relationships and marriages so quickly and I found it a bit boring. I struggled keeping characters together, especially who was married to who and who was sleeping with who. It all just blended together; Beryl would make a questionable choice in a man and suffer the consequences. Rinse and repeat.

I admired her tenacity to work to become a horse trainer and aviator and defy the expectations of her, but the portrayal of her in between those segments wasn’t super intriguing to me. I didn’t find her romance with Denys to be particularly earth moving in terms of romance and passion, so it felt a bit flat. I am curious to read her own book and see how the portrayal she paints of herself lines up with the fictional interpretation, but I think I need a break before I delve into that.

Overall this was a fine historical fiction novel, nothing I would read again. If I had to grade it, I’d give it a 3.5. It did work very well for my book club however as there’s loads of characters and aspects of her life that can be discussed, so in that context it was a winner.

Title: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 366
ISBN: 9780345534187

Three descriptions: Lyrical, Atmospheric, Character Driven

Read Alikes:
The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies
A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen
Before the War by Fay Weldon

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lili Star Reads says:

    Circling the Sun sounds really interesting, I’d love to read about a woman becoming a pilot in the 20’s. I love historical fiction at the minute but I’m always either WW2 or 1800’s so I definitely need to expand! Great review.


    1. C. Rose says:

      Thanks so much! If you’re a historical fiction fan you will probably love it. Her own memoir sounded really interesting as well and covers more of her piloting career, so it might be worth a skim as well!


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