Circling the Sun Discussion Journal

It has been a week now since we met to discuss Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. The delay in no way reflects the quality of our discussion, which was particularly full and detailed given our one-hour time limit and a group of nineteen! The novel is a fictionalized account of the early life of Beryl Markham, a record-breaking aviator and horse trainer who was a young contemporary of Isak Denisen, the author of Out of Africa.

Our first responders noted the writing even more than the story itself, perhaps particularly in comparison with last month’s 414-page selection, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Paula McLain’s story is “direct and straightforward,” “lyrical,” “easy to read.”  One of our toughest critics, a fan of author Ken Follett, said that it has been one of the first books we’ve read in a while that he has finished and the description of the horse race nearly brought him to tears. Another member loved the descriptions of the horse training. Yet another had not liked the book to start but had been won over by the end, particularly so when she realized it was based on the life of a real person.

One of us had been so impressed that she had read the author’s previous book, The Paris Wife, a novel about Hemingway’s first wife, as well as Beryl Markham’s own memoir, West with the Night— entirely during this last month.  Inspired by this enthusiasm, I read a selection from Markham’s memoir that described the time she was attacked by a domesticated lion. Markham’s description and perspective is so beautiful that I was even more impressed by McLain’s willingness to describe the same scene.

Even though we still had much to discuss about Beryl Markham’s life and character, and we agreed that she wasn’t always likeable, most of us were impressed. She had been abandoned by her mother and left by her father to be raised by the native tribe. One of us thought about the discussion question asking if Mr. Clutterbuck had been a good father, and we seemed to think he had not. But we discussed the times, the hardships, the roaring twenties, the joke: “Are you married or do you live in Kenya?”(p.129).

We discussed India’s ties to Africa, the title, and what made Denys so attractive, with his bald head and womanizing ways. I was surprised how few of us remembered the film Out of Africa and even more surprised how few of us thought Robert Redford fit the role. We put out a variety of names, and perhaps we just needed more time with that question!

Sometimes, the questions we raise during the meetings do need time to germinate. And sometimes, I know that people in the group may not speak up.   I was surprised recently when our movie club discussed La La Land.  The most outspoken members didn’t like the movie (including me).  I specifically mentioned that many people like this movie, it has won many awards, and I want to hear the other side. I mentioned this several times and little was said.  But afterward, in one-on-one discussions, people spoke up.

I believe many in our book club group have been together long enough to speak up, but if, on reflection, you have more to say, speak up now. Here. In this blog. Or to me at the library. It makes a difference!

Other works discussed:

  • Vanity Fair by W.M. Thackeray
  • See member recommendations for titles discussed during the Book Circle portion of the meeting