It’s a new book…. If you haven’t read it!

Title: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain4.5 Stars ****

Publisher: Random House 384 pp (July 2015)

Genre: literary fiction, memoir fiction, novelized memoir, historical novel, Africa,


Paula McLain is the author of several novels (including two poetry books), and the international best seller (2012) The Paris Wife. She has definitely found her niche writing gorgeous stories about interesting women. Her writing is richly evocative of time and place, the engaging characters are well developed, however famous, and they are well researched. Her books, best sellers and NYTimes listed, have won notable awards and nominations; NPR named Circling the Sun one of the best books of 2015. Film rights have been optioned!

Story line:

Much of the story takes place in Kenya, Africa during the 1920s and 1930s. This is a short chapter in the life of Beryl Markham, ending with her transatlantic flight in 1936 (she lived another 50). Her life is full of bad choices and tragedy, but also held together by an indomitable spirit. Her love of Africa was a driving force, while social conventions were mostly to be ignored. So although this is white colonial Africa, she appears to be a much more modern, complicated woman. I thought her unruly girlhood (wild Masai tribe) was a rather romanticized, but the social frustration with conventional expectations were truly appalling. I keep thinking how far we’ve come, and then wondering if we really have. She was an extraordinary woman, adventurer and aviator. Her story deserves to be more widely known. She was the first and youngest woman to be a licensed horse trainer and the first woman to fly solo transatlantic (east to west), 1936).

While Beryl is the main character, Africa is an immense, constant presence, beautifully detailed and enjoyed by the reader. I also love her realistic descriptions of flying, which also show the love affair with the African landscape. This would be a perfect summer read.

Read on:

Beryl Markham West with the Night (1942)

Isak Dinesen Out of Africa


Prologue 1936. The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I’ve known, and somehow mine to fly.

First Line 1904. Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet somehow still new, the name belonged only to our most magnificent mountain.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).
Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, issued in paperpback, just discovered or recently recommended. Don’t miss this author visit!!

Author Spotlight and Interview – Paula McLain

By Helen McIver

Author Paula McLain

Author Paula McLain

After I reviewed Paula McLain’s new book The Paris Wife earlier this year, one of my book clubs decided to read her novel. I was volunteered to do the “Author Review” that normally accompanies a book we read. Having already delved back into Hemingway, I was more than ready. However I decided to add something extra: I contacted her and asked if she would answer a few questions about her reading habits.  She decided which questions she had time to answer, and we ended up with a few more books to read!

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, CA in 1965.  After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of foster homes for the next 14 years. Eventually, she discovered she could – and wanted to – write.  She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and since then has been a resident at Yaddo and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.  She is the author of two collections of poetry, a much-praised memoir called Like Family, and one previous and well-received novel, A Ticket to Ride.  Paula McLain lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her family. Visit her website,

Helen McIver:  Do you remember the last time you said to someone, “You really must read this book now?” and the book was? Are you part of a book club?

Paula McLain:  I haven’t been in a book club for years and years, but when I speak with book clubs or go into local Indy book stores, I’ll always ask for glowing recommendations. Recently I found Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic that way, and also Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.  Loved them both

Helen McIver:  What is your favorite line from a book?

Paula McLain:  From Willa Cather’s My Antonia: “Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

Helen McIver:  A recent Book you bought just for the cover?

Paula McLain:  Amor Towles’, Rules of Civility. Isn’t that a great looking cover?

Helen McIver:  Have you heard any good books lately?  Driving?  In an airplane?  Did you choose the reader of your book?  Did you like the audio version of your book?

Paula McLain:  I just listened (yesterday!) to Ian McEwan’s Saturday, which was terrific.  I love him and also loved, lately, his On Chesil Beach, which I also got as a book on tape. In general, I love to be read to.

I had a lot of trouble with the casting for the audio for Paris Wife.  None of the actors they liked sounded like Hadley to me, including the one who actually was chosen. Maybe no one would have pleased me, though, since I had a strong “Hadley” voice in my head for years, which I just wasn’t going to hear again out in the world, if you know what I mean.

Helen McIver:  Do you have a genre to beach read?

Paula McLain:  Lord, I wish I had time to read on the beach. Oh, and a beach to read on!

Helen McIver:  Do you have a favorite literary adaptation on TV or film? Is there something coming out you can’t wait (Hemingway?!)

Paula McLain:  There’s a great BBC production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion that I HEART and have watched maybe fifty times….

Helen McIver:  What book is on your nightstand?

Paula McLain:  Rules of Civility.

Helen McIver:  Paper or electronic? Do you take notes?

Paula McLain:  Electronic, always. I take lots of notes, some of which I actually find again!

Helen McIver:  Is music important to your writing? (Do you listen to music when you write? When you read? Do you incorporate songs into your work that have “hidden” meaning or help set the tone?)

Paula McLain:  I have to listen to music, and keep my iPhone tuned to Pandora, on a sound dock for my whole working day. Usually something low-key and croon-y. I like whispery male singer-songerwriter types like Bon Iver……

Helen McIver:  What were your most cherished books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero / heroine from one of those books?

Paula McLain:  Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers, tons of Roald Dahl.

Helen McIver:  Is there one book you wish all children would read?

Paula McLain:  Watership Down – those rabbits!

Helen McIver:  Is there one book you would like adults to read?

Paula McLain:  Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. A lot, there, about the act of storytelling. Why we tell stories and what they mean to our lives.

Helen McIver:  Do you tend to keep books, lend them out or give them away?

Paula McLain:  I horde them and lend the ones I feel evangelical about.

Helen McIver:  Any guilty reading pleasures?

Paula McLain:  People Magazine in airports! Ooh, and I love food magazines and cook books: essentially food porn!

The Paris Wife

Paula McLain The Paris Wife
One good book leads to another – if you have read Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, you have your next book: The Paris Wife. I liked that he finally recognised what he had lost with his divorce, from this comment: “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her (his first wife, Hadley).” Paula McLain writes primarily in Hadley’s voice providing her version of events. A previous biography (Sokoloff, 1973) is quite good, but this novel portrays the woman who loved him, for himself, and is fascinating! McLain painstakingly researched the biographies, letters, and Hemingway’s novels, to accurately detail their lives, including their marriage (1921-1926). She is also a poet, which is evident in her language craft and evocative prose which captures the glamour, emotions and trials of the 1920s, Europe and especially Paris.
Hadley (Elizabeth Hadley Richardson 1893-1979) was a 28 year old midwestern girl when she met the 21 year old Hemingway who was already brash and ambitious. You are caught up in their whirlwind courtship and the infinite possibilities that await them in life (even knowing the baggage that came later, you love the current story). Her inheritance enabled them to move to Paris and initially provided Hemingway with the stable environment which promoted his writing and provided him with material/ experiences.
The reader is charmed by the warm generosity, beliefs and support of Hadley, delighted by the glittering expatriate world which is littered with well know literary and artistic figures as Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, Jean Rhys, and many others, and heartbroken when their marriage dissolves, unable to survive the fame, the drinking and womanizing, especially in wake of the birth of their child (John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway “Bumby”) and her family values.
Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises during this time frame, dedicating it to her (and their son) partly in recognition of her sacrifice to his art. The royalties were hers as well. I will always wonder if she had stood up to him more, what greatness they could have achieved together. He desired her because she was not the independent, modern woman, but forgot she was her own person. She struggled to find her place in his ever changing world. While she embraced his adventures, the outdoors, the bullfights, etc their romance withered with jealousy, celebrity, ambition, and depression.
McLain is also sympathetic to Hemingway, recognising his early troubles, from his controling mother, the trauma of the great war and his depression. We know the man he became. Hadley married journalist and political writer Paul Mowrer in 1933 (Pulitzer 1929), eventually moving back to Chicago. He was also the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire (1968). Bumby (1923-2000) went on to become an American writer and conservationist (he finished the memoir, A Moveable Feast).
HWM 2012

The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

Paula McLain will be here in the Library this weekend! Sunday 8th January – DON’T MISS IT!
This is a beautifully written and captivating story and promises to be a fascinating discussion.The book is also for sale in our Friends Bookstore! I am so glad she is a friend of one of our Librarians,- what an opportunity to have her visit Rochester! This was my first exposure to her work. I would have been hugely disappointed if I had missed this book!