Book Review: Circling The Sun by Paula McLain

Title: Circling the Sun

Author: Paula McLain

Genre: Historical, Fiction, Africa, Cultural

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Published: July 28, 2015

Page Amount: 366 pages

Goodreads Summary: Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up,

Why I Read:  In another stunner week, I again didn’t pick up this book from Goodreads or from my never-ending TBR. A couple weeks prior, my friend Jess bought this book for another friend with the promise that once she was finished reading it – I would be next on the “You have to read this” list. I’m not about to say no to a book about a woman achieving her dreams, even if books on Africa aren’t usually cup of tea.

Review: Difficulties arise reviewing a book when I’m so at odds with certain key elements of how the story was told versus how it is written. Circling the Sun had (it seemed) infinite hypocritical elements, so much so that when I think about to my reading experience – I am torn. While actually reading the book, I was entranced – and I remember having that sought-after sensation of being lost in a book’s pages, unable to escape. Thinking back though, there are some inconsistencies that I take issue with.

The story itself focuses pretty much solely on Beryl, her childhood, how she finds her way to horse training, flying – and the assorted affairs she accumulates along the way. If you go into the book believing that is what you want to read – then it does suffice. Especially considering the book has a lot to say about being  woman and not needing a “lifelong love interest,” it’s beautifully written. I adored how straight-forward the book was about Beryl’s excursions into the morally grey areas of life, and her tireless ambition.

After I finished reading, however, something struck me. Whether or not the book acknowledges it, large parts of the story have to do with parts of Africa breaking free from it’s colonial bounds. And yet, we hear next to nothing about it. Sure, the consequences of the uprisings make appearances, but ultimately: the book does not (in my opinion) do a good enough job in talking about what happened and why.

Everyone seems to live in a world of stereotypes and naivety, where their own little dramas take centre stage. Perhaps this is accurate, given what I know about humanity – but I would have appreciated as a reader – more focus on the colonial part of the story. Ultimately, the reading experience was great. It’s so lovely to feel caught up in a story, in a book, and need to turn the next page. It’s been some time since I’ve felt so entranced by a paperback – and I absolutely loved sipping Vietnamese coffee while furiously making my way through the book.

Overall? I think it’s okay to read books even if they don’t necessarily  cover the important historical issues in fiction so long as you acknowledge them. Keep in mind reading this novel that it does exaggerate the normality of colonialism, but beyond that: fantastic read!

Favourite Quote: 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.  

Second Favourite Quote: “I have, though,” I said, surprised at my own emotion. “I’ve been terrified… I just haven’t let it stop me”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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