Circling the Sun- Discussion Part 3


Denys Finch Hatton

In the book, Beryl spent a lot of time pining over Denys Finch Hatton, the ultimate unattainable man if ever there was one.

Ultimately was the relationship good for Beryl, or a source of heartbreak? How did Beryl resolve this relationship with her admiration for Karen Blixen, his other lover? How do you as the reader feel about this?

How does Beryl come across to the reader? Is she a sympathetic character?

Since Beryl herself never wrote about her affair with Denys, the truth will never be known. Is she simply a woman in love, or an iconoclastic badass who fancied the lover of a friend? Share your thoughts!

(picture source:

Circling the Sun- Discussion Part 2


Paula McLain says that she was particularly drawn to Markham’s story after finding out that they had both been abandoned by their mothers at the same early age. The author believes that this childhood event “created Beryl as the kind of woman to tackle… fearless, incredible, daring feats.” This early abandonment is McLain’s common bond with Markham, giving the author the advantage of having emotional insight into her subject’s dramatic personal history- the heart and soul of the novel. It also serves as an explanation for some of Beryl’s choices.

Beryl left her own young son in order to return to Africa where she switched careers and began to learn flying. How did the birth of her son play into this decision? In light of her abandonment by her own mother was Beryl’s decision a puzzling one?

(In an interesting aside, in real life Beryl’s son was fond of his mother and would not admit to any ill will toward her or how he was raised.)

What are your thoughts?

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Circling the Sun- Discussion Part 1

Long a staple of the publishing industry, historical fiction has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years. From Memoirs of a Geisha and The Girl with the Pearl Earring, this trend has run the gamut from the more literary (Wolf Hall, Marriage of Opposites) to the more popular (The Red Tent, Loving Frank).

But far and away a more noteworthy trend has been the use of footnote historical figures many of whom are telling their story as fictionalized memoirs. One of the latest and best of these offerings is Circling the Sun. Author Paula McLain is quoted as saying, “It is my fate to illuminate the lives of these one of a kind notable women that have been somehow forgotten by history.” And illuminate she does. (source:

beryl-markham-02Beryl Markham was among the first bush pilots in Africa, male or female, and was also the first to cross the Atlantic flying east to west. She had a variety of successful careers- race horse trainer and bestselling author among them. Raised by her father on a farm outside of Nairobi, Markham led a wild child existence which helped foster her headstrong and independent nature. McClain chronicles all of these events along with Markham’s failed marriages, numerous love affairs and young motherhood.

A question that arises with books written as fictionalized memoirs is whether we have attached too many modern sensibilities to the character? Is she more reflective of our time, or does she more accurately reflect her own time?

Is there a certain value to the use of a marquee name? Would the book have worked if this character were simply made up? Does the use of a more known name help to tell the story?

Until next time!

Circling the Sun- Paula McLain


Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California 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 various foster homes for the next fourteen years. When she aged out of the system, she supported herself by working as a nurses aid in a convalescent hospital, a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker, a cocktail waitress- before discovering she could (and very much wanted to) write.

She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996.She is the author of The Paris Wife, a New York Times and international bestseller, which has been published in thirty-four languages. The recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, she is also the author of two collections of poetry; a memoir, Like Family, Growing up in Other People’s Houses; and a first novel, A Ticket to Ride.

She lives with her family in Cleveland.


Pick up a copy of Circling the Sun at the Jericho Library today! We’ll be starting the discussion in the next post. See you then!

New Year, New Book!

The best way to start off the new year? With a good book of course!


Our selection for January/February 2016 is Circling the Sun by Paula McLain.

McLain’s latest novel transports readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen (who, under the pen name of Isak Dinesen, wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa).

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, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Visit the Jericho Library circulation desk to pick up your copy of the book. It may also be downloaded electronically (ebook or audiobook) via Overdrive. 



The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty- A Quick One


Vendela Vida has also done some great interviews. Here are just a couple of them:


Makers- The Largest Video Collection of Women’s Stories

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty- Part 3

The use of an exotic locale is also something that Vida has used effectively in other books, which are set in Lapland, the Philippines, and Turkey.  What effect, if any, does the use of Morocco have on you, the reader?  Was it off-putting, or did it facilitate your understanding of the narrator and her actions?  Does it heighten anxiety?  Or is the book just a fantasy about the possibilities of travel?  Personally, I love the use of an unusual locale.  It creates a mini-travelogue, and the feeling of being slightly out of one’s element–something that frequently happens when you travel.

The unusual title is from a poem by Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet known for his mysticism.  Rumi frequently writes about longing for reunion with a loved one who is now absent, or about returning to one’s roots. These same roots provide comfort and show how to live a meaningful life, and at the same time provide a way to be of service to humanity at large.  Did you find that the title aptly described the narrator and the events that lead her to Morocco?  Do you think the narrator is ultimately capable  of finding peace in her life?  Or will her grief and sense of dislocation continue to keep her unresolved?  Is the narrator truly sentenced to remain ‘the diver with empty clothes’?

Actress Lena Dunham (creator of HBO’s Girls ) has praised The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty.  She called it “part glamorous travelogue, part slow burn mystery.”  A very apt description for a short and satisfying read. (source:

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the novel! 

Some other second person titles you may want to read:  Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney or How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid.


The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty-Part 2

One of the devices that Vida uses is writing in second person (“You try not to run as you make your way across the lobby and up the elevator to your room.  You place the backpack–the evidence–inside your suitcase and throw your clothes and toiletries on top.”).

In an interview Vida has said, “I didn’t want the female character to have a name or be an I or a She.  Instead I wanted to put the reader immediately in the protagonist’s shoes.  That’s why it’s you.”  (Source:  http://www.Interview–vida)  But I wonder how readers feel about this?  Second-person narratives aren’t common, but did it fit this author’s purpose?  How so?  What is the effect?  Did the second-person prose make it easier or more difficult to identify with the narrator?  How did the use of the second-person narration change the perception of what was going on in the novel?  Or did it?

Vida also brings up some interesting thoughts as to the nature of identity, and exactly what that means to each of us.  Are we in fact the Facebook page that we present to others, or are we more the internal thoughts that we keep private?  The narrator finds identity to be porous and changeable, so is she suggesting that identity is simply a performance?  Would it be liberating, or just terrifying  to suddenly have the ability to assume another identity?

Till the next time…

There are still some copies of the book available at  Jericho Library . Hope to see you there!

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty–An Intro

Since you never get a second chance to make a first impression–let me introduceMary Hirdt Avatar myself.  I’m Mary Hirdt, an adult reference librarian for the past 14 years at Jericho Public Library.  I am taking over the Book in a Blog from the very capable hands of Susan Santa.  I read about 200 books a year, and I run JPL’s afternoon book discussion group called the Passionate Reader.  I have lots of opinions to share, and I hope that over time we can build an online dialog devoted our mutual love of some interesting titles.  Now onto our first title, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida.


The book’s premise is this:  While checking into her Casablanca hotel, the nameless narrator is robbed of her knapsack containing her passport, money, credit cards, and laptop– that is, virtually anything that represents identity in the modern age.  Shortly thereafter, the police notify her that the bag has been found.  But the bag that is returned contains another woman’s possessions, which our heroine (known throughout the book as “you”) then adopts as her own.  And so the adventure begins.  In spare, elegant prose, Vida recounts the narrator’s journey into and through other assumed identities, while slowly revealing to readers the great tragedy that has shaped the narrator and brought her to Morocco.

Stay tuned for next time as we begin our discussion!  Copies of the book are available at the Jericho Library Circulation Desk.