Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain is the second book by this author my mother has asked me to read - the first being The Paris Wife. Both are striking tales of characters that may otherwise have been cast as 'supporting actors' to the stars. For instance, this book delves into the life of Beryl Markham (maiden name Clutterbuck), a side character in Out of Africa, but a heroine in her own right. 

Her life takes her from a Kenyan farm with her father, into a husband's arms at a neighboring farm at a very young age. This doesn't suit her and she fights instead for freedom, training to be the first female horse trainer / racer in Kenya. At the time, she also meets Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton, starting a friendship with each but developing a love for the latter. If you know the story, even from Blixen's point of view, you know how that ends. If you do not, I won't spoil it!

She is never lucky in love but this is not truly a story about love. Rather, it is the story of resilience, of colonial Kenya and of one women's fierce independence from anything that tried to keep her tied or subject to orthodox life. In fact, she would become the first woman to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean by plane to reach America.

There are things we find only at our lowest depths. The idea of wings and then wings themselves. An ocean worth crossing one dark mile at a time. The whole of the sky. And whatever suffering has come is the necessary cost of such wonders, as Karen once said, the beautiful thrashing we do when we live.
— Paula McLain, Circling the Sun

Apparently, Markham was also a talented writer. Even Ernest Hemingway - a key character in McLain's The Paris Wife, interestingly enough - expressed awe at her abilities in writing of West with the Night. "She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen... [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers... It really is a bloody wonderful book," he wrote.

Her life's adventure, depicted by McLain, left me eager to know more of their small world of 1920s Kenya - Markham, Blixir and her first husband, Hatton. Will stories of today resound in the same way?

We’re all of us afraid of many things, but if you make yourself smaller or let your fear confine you, then you really aren’t your own person at all—are you? The real question is whether or not you will risk what it takes to be happy.
— Paula McLain, Circling the Sun