Circling the Sun: A Novel (original 2015; edition 2015)
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The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I've known, and somehow mine to fly.
Before Kenya was Kenya, when it was millions of years old and yet still somehow new, the name belonged only to our most magnificent mountain.
Her absence was still so loud and so heavy, I ached with it, feeling hollow and lost. I didn't know how to forget my mother any more than my father knew how he might comfort me. He pulled me—long limbed and a little dirty, as I always seemed to be—onto his lap, and we sat like that quietly for a while.
I grew as tall as Kibii and then taller, running just as swiftly through the tall gold grasses, our feet floured with dust.
This was certain: I belonged on the farm and in the bush. I was part of the thorn trees and the high jutting escarpment, the bruised-looking hills thick with vegetation; the deep folds between the hills, and the high cornlike grasses. I had come alive here, as if I'd been given a second birth, and a truer one. This was my home, and though one it would all trickle through my fingers like so much red dust, for as long as childhood lasted it was a heaven fitted exactly to me. A place I knew by heart. The place in the world I'd been made for.
Chpt 62: Karen buried Denys on the farm, as she knew he wanted it, at the crest of Lamwia, along the Ngong ridge. ... No one could challenge their bond, or doubt how she had loved him. Or how truly he had been hers. One day she was going to write about him -- write "him" in such a way that would seal the two of them together for ever. And from those pages, I would be absent.
Author's Note pg 358: Though they depict the same place and time, and house many of the same characters, Beryl's book [West With the Night] hasn't found as wide an audience or had the same impact as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, but I believe it has the potential to. From the moment I read even a few sentences, West With the Night took powerful hold of my imagination. Beryl's descriptions of her African childhood, colonial Kenya in all its seasons, and her extraordinary adventures fairly leap off the page - but more striking to me is the spirit behind the words. She had so much nerve and pluck, plunging fearlessly into vast gaps between the sexes, and at a time when such feats were nearly unthinkable. ... a woman who lived by her own code instead of society's, though that cost her much.
When his circumcision ceremony arrived, he would become the warrior he was always meant to be. In all the time I'd known him, he'd never stopped dreaming of and longing for that day, but somehow, as I'd listened to him over the years, I'd managed to ignore how the ceremony would take away the boy I knew for ever and also the fierce warrior girl who had loved him.
The auction process dragged on for several gruelling months. Buyers came, haggling over the price of wheelbarrows and pitchforks and riding tack. Like a puzzle box emptied out on the floor and picked over by strangers, the outbuildings were dismantled piece by piece and stick by stick—the groom's cottage, the stables, and the house.
A few weeks later, my father and I met the train from Nairobi at Kampi ya Moto Station, down the hill from our farm. The engine settled and breathed hard in place, like a small dragon home from war.
He'd always been good at fences. I had known that from the beginning, but I hadn't guessed how desperate I could feel bound up inside one.
Puzzling over their care was how I got to sleep each night, how I turned off my own doubts and fears as simply as blowing out the lamp.
He played his favourite song, "All Aboard for Margate," again and again, refilling my brandy glass until the entire evening seemed to tip pleasantly on one edge.
The etched shape of Donyo Sabuk was scored onto the pale morning sky, and the big mountains, Kenya, shimmered silvery blue.
Races weren't supposed to be pageants or cocktail parties. They were tests. Hundreds of hours of training came down to a few breathless moments—and only then would anyone know if the animals were ready, which would rise and which would stumble, how the work and the talent would match up to carry this horse through, while that one would be left wearing dust, the jockey ashamed or surprised or full of excuses.
A few hours later, when Dynasty danced onto the track, I felt my pulse jump.
A quick bay gelding—the favourite—vaulted out first, the field loose around him, all of them drumming up the turf. The frontrunners took the rail, the sounds of their hoofbeats rumbling viscerally. I felt them in my joints, like the drums of childhood ngomas, taking my heart for a ride. As the group barrelled down the home straight, I don't think I breathed. Dynasty was there, gunning for the rail, all control and finely tuned muscle.
The animals were like a storm moving whole, and then breaking, every strategy falling away, all caution gone. In the last few furlongs, nothing mattered but legs and length.
The bodies on the dance floor were frenzied, as if everyone worried the night might pass before they'd reach their portion of happiness or forgetting.
I absorbed her words slowly, a sobering sort of schooling on the ways of a world that had always resided somewhere else, for other people.
"But honestly, if I hadn't had the bad luck of falling in love, I can't say that I'd be keen on divorce, either."¶ "You wouldn't want to be free, just on your own?"¶ "To do what?"¶ "Live, I suppose. Make your own choices or mistakes, without anyone telling you what you can and can't do."¶ She shook her head as if I'd said something absurd. "Society does that, darling, even if there isn't a strapping husband on hand. Haven't you learned that yet? I'm not sure anyone gets what they want. Not really."¶ "But you're trying now." I felt exasperated and a little confused. "You sound cynical, but you're in love with Blix."¶ "I know." Her forehead wrinkled prettily as she frowned. "Isn't that the silliest thing you ever heard?"
I happened to find him out for a smoke, leaning against a length of fence railing as the last of the sun vanished behind him. His collar was loose and his auburn hair hatless and slightly windblown. It was almost as if someone had sketched him there.
His colour was high and he seemed to be in the peak of health, though I guessed that, like his lovely suit, it was put on.
His back was wide and his sides were as rounded and easy as a comfortable chintz-covered chair.
But the memory lent a palpable charge to the hours, as if there were an invisible length of string or wire between us.
It was almost a kind of dance, how funny and clever these two were together—lighter than air.
His tobacco smelled exotic, like something he'd found only by bellycrawling through far reaches of the continent.
"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."
How dreadful it would be if everything toppled you and you folded in.
"Maybe that's the secret to surviving all sorts of trouble, knowing who you are apart from it, I mean."¶ "Yes." She picked up the clock, turning it over in her hand as if to remind herself of its significance. "But like many things, it's so much easier to admire that stance than to carry it out."
"I'm sorry, try not to mind me. People interest me so much. They're such wonderful puzzles. Think of it. Half the time we've no idea what we're doing, but we live anyway."¶ "Yes," Denys said. "Searching out something important and going astray look exactly the same for a while, in fact." He stretched and resettled himself like a rangy tomcat in the sun. "Sometimes no one knows the difference, especially not the poor damned pilgrim."
"I'll bet it was important to you. We all have those moments—though not always so dramatic." Denys paused, looking into the fire. "They're meant to test us and change us, I think. To make plain what it means to risk everything."
The poem seemed to be about how naturally dignified animals are and how their lives make more sense than those of humans, which are cluttered with greed and self-pity and talk of a distant God. It was something I'd always believed.
The group startled as one animal, and then went blundering off in a noisy scatter, awkward as unmanned wheelbarrows.
Her deerhound, Dusk, led the way while I trailed a little behind, thinking about how lightly Denys wore his body.
The hill flattened out into a kind of plateau, and from there we could see straight down into the Rift Valley, its crags and ridges like pieces of a broken bowl. The rain had finally cleared, but a billowy ring of clouds rested over Kilimanjaro to the south, its flat top painted with snow and shadows. East and a little north, the Kikuyu Reserve drew itself out in a long rolling plain all the way to Mount Kenya, a hundred miles or more away.
We fell silent for a few minutes as he refilled our champagne glasses. Swarms of bubbles crested into buttery-looking foam.
A breeze lifted the canvas flaps and stays. Through a triangle of mosquito netting, the night pulsed. There were a host of stars in the sky, all of them close and sharp.
"Even the worst things end...that's how we go on."
"Is there some special occasion?" I asked her.¶ "Not really. I'm just so happy I don't want to keep it to myself." Then she went off to instruct Juma about some detail of the menu while I stood in place, reminded of something she'd told me months before—that she'd meant to be happy. I'd heard pure determination in her words, and here lay her quarry, as if she had chased and hunted it down. She'd gone full tilt in the derby of her life and won the grand prize.
"Don't be difficult, Denys," Nell chided. "All women like a little flattery from time to time."¶ "What if they didn't? What if they simply liked themselves and no one needed to bend backwards to flatter them? Wouldn't it all be simpler then?"
It broke my heart to see him there, frail and bloodless, small-looking as a child.
His colouring was so off even his lovely teeth seemed grey.
I didn't think I could look at him and go on, so I focused on his fine pale hands on the snow-white blanket, the pale-blue moons low on his clipped fingernails, the small nicks of scars, the failing veins.
There was a slight smile on his waxen lips, and his spiked lashes were like fragile ferns on his cheeks.
From the first trumpets to the roar and release of the grandstand, races are quick and ephemeral things.
He had perfect manners and the kind of optimism that came when you knew that if life didn't go exactly your way one moment, you could change its mind the next.
Along the fence, eligible women strained in a pose, ready to kill or drop their knickers for a whiff of his attention.
I looked away from both men and back towards the fire, where the flames rose, copper and gold, blaze blue and white, the sparks thrown up and raining down again like the ashes of fallen stars.
He nodded, his eyes rich and black. I had the feeling that if I looked deeply enough into them I would see all the years of our childhood played out one marvellous day at a time.
Confinement is one of those funny old-fashioned words that say so much more than they mean to. I had mine in Swiftsden with Mansfield's mother, who made everything easy for me in one way, and a personalized piece of hell in another. I slept in a beautiful room and had a lady's maid, and didn't lift a finger, even to pour my own tea. It was obvious she meant to lavish this child with everything befitting a Markham. I wasn't really a Markham myself, and she made that expressly clear, all without saying a word.
He turned and went to the window, pacing before it, his feet stitching the dark floorboards.
Then he went to talk to the doctor while everything we'd said—and hadn't—hung in the room like a cold, crimped fog.
What transpired next would be whispered and tattled about for decades to come, and mostly bungled in the retelling, like the nursery game of telephone operator where even the most banal message turns tangled and foreign and unrecognizable.
There was something soothing and even healing in watching the aeroplanes stitch through the vacant blue over Shellbeach, glinting silver needles pulling thread.
The word 'we' nearly did me in, filling me full of tender holes.
He looked at me carefully, almost solemnly, as if he were trying to read my features like an ancient text.
The aerodrome was a ramshackle then as the town of Nairobi had been only thirty years before, tin and glass and hope standing tiptoe at the edge of emptiness.
"Sometimes when you're hurting, it helps to throw yourself at something that will take your weight."
On safari, I saw Denys in sharper relief than I ever had. He had an infallible compass, and a way of seeing everything as if he knew it would never be there exactly the same again. More than anyone I'd known, Denys understood how nothing ever holds still for us, or should. The trick is learning to take things as they come and fully, too, with no resistance or fear, not trying to grip them too tightly or make them bend.
For most of a day we walked through alkali flats, the white crust like a frosted layer of salt that rose in a powder when your boots punched through.
The porters moved ahead in a line, and when my vision blurred, the slim line of their bodies against the great whiteness of the plain looked like human geometry. Limbs became sticks and sharp dashes, an equation of simple perseverance.
I think we sat like that for hours. Long enough for me to feel my own density settle more and more completely into the chalky dust. Aeons had made it, out of dissolving mountains, out of endlessly rocking metamorphosis. The things of the world knew so much more than we did and lived them more truly. The thorn trees had no grief or fear. The constellations didn't fight or hold themselves back, nor did the translucent hook of the moon. Everything was momentary and endless. This time with Denys would fade, and it would last for ever.
He looked at me and then out through the door of the hangar, where scudding clouds tatted the pale blue of the sky.
When the service was over, and the mourners had gone down over the hill to Mbogani, I lingered long enough to reach for a handful of dust from Deny's gravesite, red as life's blood and older than time.
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English
Girl loves Africa -
Raises horses; learns to fly -
Soars across ocean
Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345534182, Hardcover)
Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting 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, author of 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 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.
Praise for Paula McLain and The Paris Wife
“McLain has brought Hadley [Hemingway] to life in a novel that begins in a rush of early love. . . . A moving portrait of a woman slighted by history, a woman whose . . . story needed to be told.”—The Boston Globe
“The Paris Wife creates the kind of out-of-body reading experience that dedicated book lovers yearn for, nearly as good as reading Hemingway for the first time—and it doesn’t get much better than that.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Exquisitely evocative . . . This absorbing, illuminating book gives us an intimate view of a sympathetic and perceptive woman, the striving writer she married, the glittering and wounding Paris circle they were part of. . . . McLain reinvents the story of Hadley and Ernest’s romance with the lucid grace of a practiced poet.”—The Seattle Times
“A novel that’s impossible to resist . . . It’s all here, and it all feels real.”—People
“Powerful and devastating . . . McLain pulls off a delicate balancing act, making the macho Hemingway of myth a complex and sympathetic figure.”—USA Today
“A sweet love story with surprising emotional impact.”—Chicago Sun-Times
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:43 -0400)
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