By Judi Ketteler
PAULA McLAIN WAS going to be a poet. After all,
she earned an MFA in poetry and published two collections of poetry. Then she wrote a memoir about
growing up in foster care (Like Family),
and a first novel (A Ticket to Ride).
When she stumbled upon Hadley
Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, the
idea for her best-selling novel The Paris
Wife was born. She may have happened
upon the genre of biographical fiction,
but once she found it, McLain knew in
her bones it was where she belonged.
And then she got stuck. She was
working on a book about Marie Curie,
but, as she tells The Connection while on
vacation in Wisconsin, “I couldn’t find
the voice, even after a few years of trying. Voice is the
main thing for me … and it just wasn’t there.”
In 2012 she was on vacation with her sister and
brother-in-law in Florida. They were sitting pool-
side, and her brother-in-law was reading West with
the Night, a memoir by Beryl Markham, a pioneering
horse trainer and the first woman to fly solo across
the Atlantic from east to west. “He kept glancing at
me, saying, ‘You have to read this,’ ” McLain says.
Her brother-in-law gave her the book, which
collected dust on her dining room table for a year.
One afternoon, she picked it up. “I read one paragraph and the voice hit me immediately. I felt an
energy crackling. It was not at all subtle,” she says.
COSTCO HAS 50 signed copies of Paula
McLain’s’ Circling the Sun, to give away.
To enter, go to: costcoconnectionbookgive
NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT OR OPT-IN OF ANY KIND IS
NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPSTAKES.
Purchase will not improve odds of winning. Sweepstakes is
sponsored by Penguin Random House, 1745 Broadway, New
York, NY 10019. Open to legal residents of the U.S. (except Puerto
Rico) who are age 18 or older at the time of entry. One entry per
household. Entries must be received before the September issue
is available online, which will happen around August 25, 2015.
Winners will be randomly selected and noti;ed by mail on or
before October 1, 2015. The value of the prize is $28. Void where
prohibited. Winners are responsible for all applicable federal,
state and local taxes. Odds of winning depend on the number
of eligible entries received. Employees of Costco or Penguin
Random House and their families are not eligible.
Pennie Clark Ianniciello,
Costco book buyer
In our digital editions
Click here for a video of
Paula McLain talking about
Circling the Sun. (See page
13 for details.)
I’D LIKE TO say a big
“thank you” to the writers
who have introduced me
to so many strong and fascinating historic women I
never met in my history
classes. I’m especially
thankful to Paula McLain
for having written this
month’s book buyer’s pick,
Circling the Sun.
Based on the life of
Beryl Markham, this novel
introduces readers to a
woman who was born in
England and grew up in
Kenya. She became the ;rst
woman to ;y across the
Atlantic from east to west.
And, as McLain reveals,
;ying was but one of
I’m aware that this is
a ;ctionalized account of
Markham’s life. However,
it’s also a moving and
for readers who might
want to look further into
the life of this extraordinary woman. (Item
For more book picks,
see page 67.
With her next subject—Beryl Markham—now
clear in her mind, McLain immediately started writing Circling the Sun. Markham had grown up in colonial British Kenya; her father moved the
family there in 1904 when she was 2.
McLain was struck by that African childhood, and by the fact that Markham was
abandoned by her mother (she headed
back to England when Beryl was 4).
McLain also wanted to understand the
motivation behind Markham’s trailblazing
as a woman, particularly as the first female
licensed horse trainer in Kenya, and later as
an aviator. There was a romance component as well, namely her love triangle with
What intrigued McLain the most was how much
Markham left out of her memoir. “She wrote about
her adventures really well. But anyone who did her
harm got shoved away,” McLain says. “She was abandoned by her mother, but she never even mentions
her mother in West with the Night.” There was bravado
and beautiful descriptions of adventures, but no vulnerability—and that is precisely where McLain began.
McLain simultaneously researched and wrote
Circling the Sun. She read everything she could about
Markham, her circle of friends and colonial Kenya.
She opted not to travel to Africa until most of the
book was written. “I didn’t want anything to become
closed off to me,” she says. “I needed to find her all
on my own.”
McLain spends the first half of the book having
her recount that upbringing, creating the empathy and
backstories that were missing from the public record,
and from Markham’s own record. “I didn’t make a
decision to sympathize with her immediately. It was a
wrestling match, but she won me over,” she says.
McLain doesn’t try to make sense of whatever
magic it is that gives her the ability to dig into these
complex characters and tell their stories. “When
it’s not there, it’s like beating your head against
the wall over and over again. But when it
comes, you turn around and it’s the
Grand Canyon,” she says. Readers of
Circling the Sun will enjoy the view. C
Judi Ketteler ( judiketteler.com) lives in
Cincinnati, and is working on her first young
A voice from
readers to colonial Kenya