Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun

by Paula McLain

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345534200
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/31/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 46,564
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Paula McLain is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Love and Ruin, Circling the Sun, The Paris Wife, and A Ticket to Ride, the memoir Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, and two collections of poetry. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, O: The Oprah Magazine, Town & Country, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. She lives in Ohio with her family.

Read an Excerpt

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. You could see it from our farm in Njoro, in the British East African Protectorate—hard edged at the far end of a stretching golden plain, its crown glazed with ice that never completely melted. Behind us, the Mau Forest was blue with strings of mist. Before us, the Rongai Valley sloped down and away, bordered on one side by the strange, high Menengai Crater, which the natives called the Mountain of God, and on the other by the distant Aberdare Range, rounded blue-grey hills that went smoky and purple at dusk before dissolving into the night sky.
(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Circling the Sun"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Paula McLain.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

A Reader’s Guide
A Conversation Between Paula McLain and Lily King, author of Euphoria and Father of the Rain

Lily King: How did the idea for this novel find you?

Paula McLain: Ideas are so interesting, aren’t they? Sometimes they’re skittish as hummingbirds—-but other times they storm into your life and steal your car keys and simply will not take no for an answer! I know from previous conversations that the concept for -Euphoria completely hijacked you when you happened on a biography of Margaret Mead—-though you’d never, ever thought you’d tackle a historical novel. For me, I was deep into another story when I was given a copy of Beryl Markham’s memoir, West with the Night. The minute I let the book fall open, I was riveted to Beryl’s amazing life, but also swept away by some quality in her voice—-a unique blend of toughness, daring, and nostalgia. She’s so tender when she addresses her memories of Africa, and so aware of how the place brought her most alive. I was hooked hard and instantaneously.

I should mention that in Cleveland it was January and freezing. I want to go to Africa, I found myself thinking. I want to go to Africa NOW. The quickest way to get there was to give in to the world of the book. And I did—-in a big way. The first draft flew out of me in just a few months, faster than I’d written anything before.

LK: Did you feel a connection to Beryl Markham even before you began writing the story? In what way?

PM: It was almost eerie how quickly Beryl took hold of my imagination and drew me in. As I tried to explain, her voice got my immediate attention, and the fierce contours of her personality, too. But for a book to work for me, I have to be more than interested in my subject. I have to feel deeply bound to them—-and that our lives are somehow twisted up together. It’s mysterious, and incredibly intimate. The first time I felt this way was when I began to write The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. Writing from her point of view was like channeling her. Becoming her. With Beryl the intensity was even greater, because I was discovering that we had a surprising lot in common—-we both grew up with horses, we both married young, to men considerably older. And we both grew up without our mothers. These parallels in our lives definitely made me feel I had access to her as a subject in a really singular way—-and had me wondering if I haven’t always been meant to find and write about her.

LK: When you write historical fiction, you have to accept the fact that you are inventing dialogue and scenes and emotions for people who really lived. How does that feel? Does your responsibility to the facts as you have learned them ever come into conflict with your responsibility to the novel you are trying to create? Have you ever had to violate one in favor of the other?

PM: What a wonderful question, Lily. In one respect I think it’s an incredible privilege to be fleshing out the lives of these remarkable people, illuminating the hidden particulars, and bringing history to life in an intimate, human way. But the terrain does get tricky at times. Through the reach of imagination, we presume to know all kinds of things that can’t be known. And then there are the times, as you mention, when the facts either don’t jibe with or can’t support a moment that feels right for the story, or for the emotional arc of a character. For example, I’ve never come across any piece of evidence that suggests Karen Blixen knew Beryl was in love with Denys Finch Hatton. Nor is there any record of the two women confronting each other about Denys, acknowledging their rivalry. But as I drew -toward the end of my last draft, I just kept thinking there should be such a moment, because the story needed it, but also because the characters—-and their real--life counterparts—-deserved it. These were strong, smart women—-not pushovers or shrinking violets by any means, and not inclined to hide their heads when the truth came knocking. When I was still stewing about my authority to invent such a moment, my editor brought it up as well, wanting the scene, and feeling it demanded to be there. And now it is.
LK: Have you always loved history?

PM: I’ve always loved biography, to be sure. One the first books that ever really touched me as a young reader was the story of Annie Oakley. I think I checked it out of the library ten times when I was a second or third grader, feeling obsessed with her. But history . . . well, history was boring! All those survey classes I took as an undergraduate, memorizing the names of generals and dates of important battles, put me in a coma. Then I took a class in graduate school that sort of blew me away. It was social history, focusing very specifically on women’s stories from Colonial times through the Industrial Revolution. We read the diaries of factory workers, and housewives living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony—-and suddenly the real business of what it meant to live in those time periods came alive for me. That’s the feeling I’m trying to replicate when I research a time and place for a new book: being totally sucked into that world in a visceral way. A reader once told me she thought historical fiction was like a living wax museum. Isn’t that a wonderful way of thinking about it?

LK: Which part is more thrilling to you, the discovery of all the details of your subject’s life or the creation of your own story out of these details?

PM: I think it has to be the threshold place between those two things—​when in the sifting through of facts and materials I come upon a detail that gels the story for me. For The Paris Wife, it was when I arrived at the end of Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, at the line where he says of Hadley, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” I believed him, believed he regretted betraying her (with her friend Pauline Pfeiffer, who would become his second wife) for the rest of his life. And that broke my heart. Right then, I knew the novel was, more than anything else, about the rise and fall of a marriage.

Similarly, when I was researching Beryl’s life, I found myself wanting to know how she became such a bold and fearless woman, aeons ahead of her time, ready to take on all sorts of things women simply didn’t do. Part of the recipe, it seemed to me, was Africa itself, how she came of age in such a wild and expansive place. But just as consequential was her mother’s leaving. That early loss forced her to toughen her skin, and to thrust herself toward the people and things that might do her harm, rather than running from them. That’s when her character fully materialized for me, and I knew I wanted to explore her childhood and early adulthood more than her adventures, later in life, as a famous aviator.

LK: Before I read your novel, when I thought of Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, I saw Robert Redford (who didn’t even try to be British) and Meryl Streep. I read somewhere that you loved that movie, too, and maybe have watched it as many times as I have. How did you get them out of your head to create your own version of these two?

PM: It was no short order—-let me tell you! I’ve watched that movie countless times and have whole chunks of it memorized. And some of the scenes are burned indelibly into my brain—-like when they go up in the vintage biplane, and Meryl Streep reaches back and touches Robert Redford’s hand, and the flamingos are flying, and the musical score is swelling. Seriously, if that doesn’t make you cry, something in you is broken!

But the further along I got in my research, the more a switch seemed to flip. The real Finch Hatton—-though he looked nothing like Redford, and was almost completely bald!—-became so compelling and irresistible for me, I couldn’t help falling for him. At one point, Karen Blixen’s letters and photographs covered my desk. Her voice and face filled my head. . . . Meryl couldn’t compete after that, no matter how great she is at accents!

LK: It’s daunting, taking on another culture and time period. What was most challenging?

PM: Maybe the most challenging thing was taking on colonialism, which—-politically speaking—-is sort of abhorrent to me. But Beryl did grow up in that world. I didn’t want to give her my opinions and a stump to shout them from, but rather to represent her enmeshed, insider point of view as accurately as possible.

LK: What was most surprising?

PM: I think the greatest surprise is just how wild and irreverent those folks were back then. Cocaine, opium, wife--swapping: You name it, they did it! It makes us seem terribly conservative now, nearly a hundred years later.

LK: How did you decide which part of Beryl’s life to tell?

PM: I imagine that if you gave ten writers the same facts and sheaves of research material, they’d tell ten different stories. It’s so individual, what we respond to in someone else’s life. For me, what came alive first and most plaintively was Beryl’s African childhood. I’d always loved frontier stories—-the Little House books, The Swiss Family Robinson—-and was transfixed by the idea of what it must have been like to grow up at the edge of absolute wilderness, in a place so new “you could feel the future of it under your feet,” as Beryl writes in West with the Night. I grew up with horses, so that’s another bit of her life that really spoke to me. Oh my goodness, but the horse training and racing was fun to write!

LK: Did you go to Kenya for your research, and if so, how was that trip? Where did you go? What did you discover?

PM: I did indeed go to Kenya, and it was easily the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I started in Nairobi, visiting the places the meant a lot to Beryl and that, believe it or not, still stand almost a hundred years later. I saw the Muthaiga Club, Karen Blixen’s farm (now a museum), Denys Finch Hatton’s grave. I spent time in Njoro, where she spent her girlhood. The land that was her father’s horse farm still is a horse farm, and the current owner has refurbished the storybook cottage Beryl’s father built for her when she was fourteen. I stayed there! I also went horseback riding in the bush, slept in a tent (though a pretty fancy one) in the Masai Mara, and flew in an open--air vintage biplane. Every moment of my trip was absolutely incredible, mostly because of how privileged I felt to be stepping, as if through a time machine, into her world.

LK: One of the relationships Beryl had that most intrigued me was her friendship with Kibii, her best friend from childhood. Did that relationship ever go further than a friendship? It seemed like it was often teetering on the verge of something more.

PM: Several of Beryl’s biographers have suggested that left to their own devices, as they often were, Beryl and Kibii were probably each other’s first sweethearts, experimenting with one another as adolescents do . . . the out--in--the--bush version of playing doctor. That seems likely to me as well, though Beryl never confirmed or denied it in an interview. What strikes me in their alliance even more is how they grew from being the fiercest of competitors to the most loyal of friends over the course of their lives. They knew each other so well, and trusted and valued each other for many decades. I find that quite moving.

LK: Toward the end of the novel, Beryl says, “I’ve sometimes thought that being loved a little less than others can actually make a person rather than ruin them.” Is this your thought, or did Markham ever say or write something like this? Can you explain further what she means?

PM: In that line, I’m actually extrapolating something Beryl said of her father in an interview toward the end of her life: “I admire my father for the way he raised me. People go around kissing and fussing over their children. I didn’t get anything like that. I had to look after myself. . . . Funnily enough it made me.” Her independence and undeniable resilience were born out of her unconventional upbringing, to be sure. Though we might see the circumstances of her girlhood as heartbreaking—-the disappearance of her mother, the benign neglect of her father—-I wanted to call attention to the fact that Beryl never played the victim or felt sorry for herself, but in fact sharpened herself on those losses, becoming stronger. Becoming herself.

LK: The dreaded final question: What’s next?

PM: There is more than a smidgen of dread in that question! It’s not always obvious, when I think about something new, what’s going to swim up from the deep to activate my imagination, or even that something will. I’ll bet you have that fear too—-that one of these days the muse might hang up a “Gone Fishing” sign and vanish? But I’d very much like to get to a place where I can fight back against the panic and uncertainty, and simply be at rest, waiting for the spark of inspiration.

For today at least, that seems doable. I’m sitting at my desk, looking at my yard full of barren, skeletal trees. Nothing seems alive out there, but spring is going to come soon. It always does eventually!

1. At the beginning of the book, Beryl reflects that her father’s farm in Njoro is “the one place in the world I’d been made for.” Do you feel this is a fitting way to describe Beryl’s relationship with Kenya, too? Does she seem more suited—-more made for—-life there than the others in her circle? Is there a place in your life that you would describe the same way?

2. While it is clear he loves his daughter, do you feel Beryl’s father is a good parent? Do you think Beryl would have said he was? Did you sympathize with him at any point?

3. Beryl is forced to be independent from a very young age. How do you think this shapes her personality (for better or for worse)?

4. After Jock’s drunken attack, D fires Beryl and sends her away. Do you understand his decision? Despite all the philandering and indulgent behaviors of the community, do you feel it’s fair that Beryl is judged so harshly for the incident?

5. How would you describe Beryl and Denys’s relationship? In what ways are they similar souls? How does their first encounter—-outside, under the stars at her coming--out party—-encapsulate the nature of their connection?

6. Karen and Beryl are two strong, iconoclastic women drawn to the same unobtainable man. Do you understand how Beryl could pursue Denys even though he was involved with Karen? Did you view the friendship between the women as a true one, despite its complications?

7. Why do you believe the author chose the title Circling the Sun? Does it bring to mind a particular moment from the novel or an aspect of Beryl’s character?

8. When Beryl is quite young, she reflects that “softness and helplessness got you nothing in this place.” Do you agree with her? Or do you think Beryl places too much value on strength and independence?

9. When Beryl becomes a mother herself, she is determined not to act as her own mother did. Do you feel she succeeds? How does motherhood spur her decision to exchange horse training for flying? Could you identify with this choice?

10. After Paddy the lion attacks Beryl, Bishon Singh says, “perhaps you weren’t ever meant for him.” Do you think that Beryl truly discovers what she is meant for by the end of the novel?

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Circling the Sun (Signed Book) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful historical fiction novel. Highly recommended! The story of Beryl Markham's life in Africa. Excellent writing. The tale of love, broken hearts, flying, safari, a lion attack, an absent mother, a devoted father, sad events, evil friends, a complex woman, a great friendship, and more. This book deserves A+++
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel starts well, with fascinating characters in an exotic setting. It is well written and an easy read. However, I found it got a bit tedious and I finally gave up with about 50 pages to go. Racing, problems with love and/or money, men, sex, drinking. Repeat. Just not compelling enough.
ethel55 More than 1 year ago
This was an outstanding piece of historical fiction. I felt as though I learned a lot about the time period and the myriad of ex-pats that made their life in Colonial Kenya. Beryl Clutterbuck was a strong willed young girl, who grew into a young woman who knew what she wanted. I didn’t know as much about her ground breaking work as a female horse trainer, but it lead so easily to her desire to fly, that it made sense to see why this strong willed young woman would want a new frontier to challenge. McLain's handling of Beryl's diverse love life so that it didn't detract for the story, was well done too. Just a great read.
eagle3tx More than 1 year ago
Well written and Very entertaining -- but i always wonder whether created dialog can truly represent actual events. i recommend this book for the strong and interesting female character who was way ahead of her time. Please also read West With The Night, the auto bio that contains many of the same events, plus more that give great insight into this incredible woman.
Betsy-Kipnis More than 1 year ago
There are stories so many which can be told about one person. Time tempers the narrative and so too does Paula McLain in her novel, “Circling the Sun.” The story of Beryl Markham begins in Kenya in 1906 when other countries recognized the vast resources and opportunities availble in this dangerous and gorgeous setting and tore up their lives and transplanted them into Africa. Beryl’s father, Clut, rediscovers a passion for life in Africa and sadly her mother does not and abandons them both taking only her brother Dickie back to London. Motherless, Beryl is symbollically adopted by the Kipsigis tribe families and Lord and Lady Delamere who live nearby. Beryl runs free, learns to hunt, make fires, raise horses which are things unavailable to females elsewhere. Due to this different type of education, she becomes unconventional and is later seen as exotic for her wildness. Time passes and Beryl matures. She’s in and out of formal education and is eventually introduced to society in a more proper way suited to Londoners and expats. She marries Jock out of necessity since her father can no longer support such a large household. Jock’s character deteriorates as does his control over Beryl as she becomes historically the first licensed female horse trainer and at the age of 18. As her passion for work grows, so too does the distance between Beryl and Jock and divorce becomes iminent. Beryl would rather live in mud huts with leaky roofs than remain with her husband. She decides to leave Jock. After a series of successes and ugly Jock displays, Beryl rises in her horse trainer success and moves to another farm. During this time, her closest friend and Kipsigi tribal leader, Ruta, decides to bring his family and remain by her side. Together they create great successes. As time would have it, Beryl matures and begins to explore the world of non-commmittal physical relationships. The result of this was many relationships and horrible, slanderous, gossip that ruined her reputation. Ultimately, back and forth from Africa to London and in and out of various relationships, Beryl realizes the only person she can depend on other than Ruta is herself. Along the way, people will help especially if they receive a benefit, but in the end, one is alone. After the loss of her partner, her child, and her lover, she decides to chuck what she knows and become a pilot. Markam becomes the first woman to achieve her Class B Pilot license and to cross the Atlantic going the ‘wrong” way doing it successfully. These chapters, though loaded with accurate detail, seem rushed at the end of the story. “Circling The Sun” is artfully crafted. McLain captures closely what it feels like to be a horse person and a woman struggling for freedom and opportunity when it wasn’t easily obtainable. Beryl Markham is remarkable, persistent and a great independent female for all to learn about and McLain did her every bit of justice finding the poetry in her life while stating her accomplishments, which more than anything Beryl wished to share.
MargieS1 More than 1 year ago
Given To Me For An Honest Review Circling the Sun by Paula McLain is the story of a young family who sell all that they have to move to Kenya. Once they arrive, Clara finds that it wasn't what she expected. She tried hard to make it work but after 2 years she left with her son. Her daughter stayed behind wither father. This is her story --- a young horse trainer, adventurer and aviator. And the love triangle that she was involved in. I know who was involved, I'm not telling. You'll have to find out on your own. This book is a read over again and again book. It is really good. I gave it 5 stars but it deserves more. I just loved it. I look for more great ones from Paula McLaine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fredreeca2001 More than 1 year ago
After reading Paula McLain's first novel, The Paris Wife, I expected this one to sweep me away also..sadly, this was not the case. To get started, the setting was marvelous. I loved hearing about Africa and feel natures' magnificence. However, that's where it ended. The story was just plain boring. There was so much talk of nothing. And so much of the tale was about nothing of significance. I expected so much more. Other than the setting, this novel fell a little short for me. I received this book from Netgalley for an honest review.
SusieH5 More than 1 year ago
Beryl Clutterbuck ran wild as a child in Kenya, abandoned by her mother, taken to their hearts by neighbouring Kipsigis families who allowed her to train with Kibii, her friend and soulmate. Helping with the horses on her father’s farm, Beryl is eventually given her own foal to raise. Later, as a young woman she works for Lord Delamere to gain experience, and becomes a respected trainer. We follow Beryl through childhood, success as a trainer, and a not always ideal love life. A fascinating story, full of emotion with all its highs and lows. Thoroughly recommended.
CPAC2012 More than 1 year ago
Beryl Markham, born Clutterbuck, grew up in Kenya, then a British colony, in the 1920s. She became the first woman in Britain to obtain a horse trainer license and was the first woman in the world to obtain a commercial aviator license. She led a rather scandalous love life refusing to follow the role then assigned to women in society. She married twice, though the love of her life was Denys Finch Hatton, hunter, aviator and free-spirit, who was having a relationship with Karen Blixen—writer of the memoir Out of Africa. Circling the Sun is biographical fiction, but it certainly has the feel of a memoir. Paula McLain starts describing Beryl upbringing by her father and without the love of her mother, who abandoned both. We get to know the Beryl who played with kikuyu boys and learned to hunt, jump, and live like a warrior boy since she was a young girl. Beryl Markham lived a life worth living in spite of her scandalous choices in love: two failed marriages, two lovers and a few unfairly attributed love affairs (two of them with royals) did much to mar the image of a woman who broke barriers in everything she ever attempted. Paula McLain did a remarkable job drawing out the characters—all the British expatriates who lived in Kenya at the time—as well as the place. The Kenya of the 1920s shone under McLain pen, so much so, that it could be considered one more character in the story: the wild beauty of the place, the small community of expatriates that made Kenya feel more a village than a vast country, the gossip, the endless exchange of couples due to the intricate relationships between the British expats. In love, as McLain expresses in her notes, Beryl was rather libertine, but her professional life is worth admiring and imitating. DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free Galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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ScotsLass More than 1 year ago
Circling The Sun by Paula McLain is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Beryl Markham that relies on Beryl’s own writings, the writings of Mary Lovell’s Straight on till Morning and The Splendid Outcast and the writings of others to weave a tale of a young girl raised by her father in British East Africa in the early 1900’s. She tells of Beryl’s father’s financial difficulties and the loss of the land Beryl had come to love. She tells of the failed marriages but also the successes Beryl has as a horse trainer and then of her love of flying and her record flight from England to North America. Through the book, you see the development of a strong fearless and independent woman. She sets her mind on a goal and pursues it until she succeeds. Beryl Markham was truly a woman of history, living in a time before strong independent woman were accepted. Reading this book after reading West Into The Night, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish fact from romantic license. In West Into The Night, Beryl chose to exclude her marriages and downplay her love life. But through her research, Paula McClain has included these allowing for a more flawed and realistic character to emerge. However; it is still a book well worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sam1219 More than 1 year ago
My Mom, Susan, a formidable and inspiring woman herself, recommended this book to me, so I had high hopes from the beginning. I can honestly say that this book exceeded my expectations on every level! This is a must read!!!! Beryl Markham's story is inspiring, shocking, honest and brave. She was a woman both ahead of and a product of her time and place who lived fiercely and honestly, making no apologies. While life taught her to guard her heart, her loyalty and steadfastness to those truly close to this remarkable woman and her commitment to herself has much to offer as food for thought. This novel will make you think about how your life has shaped you, those around you, and how you in turn want to shape your life. In short, it is just a bloody good book!
GranbyLibraryBookClub More than 1 year ago
Circling the Sun is a novel that focuses on the life of Beryl Markham, a woman who accomplished remarkable feats in a man's world. From the age of three, the novel follows her life growing up in Kenya during the 1920s. Born to British colonists, Beryl struggles with finding her place in the world, starting with being torn from running amuck with Kenyan natives in order to go to school to become a proper British lady. Much like a caged animal, Beryl wrestles her whole life with how she is expected to behave verse being free. Our book group was a bit divided when reviewing this novel, some members really felt transported to Kenya and found this to be an interesting historical fiction of a strong woman. Others had a harder time getting into the story and found it slow moving and flat. But overall, we collectively felt for Beryl. We admired her strength and were glad we were not women living at that time. 3 Stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
litpixie More than 1 year ago
It took awhile for me to feel as though I was falling into this book. The book is about the life of Beryl Markham, her life in Africa her friendship with Karen Blixen and her love affair with Denys Finch - Hatton. The opening chapter was beautiful, but during Beryl's childhood through to her first marriage I wasn't crazy about the story. It seemed slow going and a bit disconnected. However, once Beryl managed to start finding her own way the action fully takes off. The book seems to find its footing and the story is beautiful. One of the little details that I loved was the way McLain used the British spelling in her work. Since most of the characters were British it added a wonderful touch of authenticity.
reececo331 More than 1 year ago
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain Beryl Markham, author of West of night, was an amazing woman who lived in a time where women were not appreciated. She lived in Africa, during the colonial expansion of Kenya. Her mother left the rugged land, for England, much of Beryl's life she believed it was because her mother was not made for the harsh world of rural Kenya. Beryl struggled to find herself, from child hood adventures with local tribes, to surviving a mauling by a lion. Beryl was resilient soul, she was about to survive her fathers down fall, her ruined early marriage. She became the first woman to train horses in Kenya. And later in life a airplane pilot, surviving and giving reality to the dreams of the man she loved. This book shows the dynamic nature of her personal struggle, but also the resilience of the human spirit. The beauty of Africa at the turn of the century, to the advent of airplanes and other changes to the society starting in the 1930's. The book is a great look into the colonial ideology, and the contrast of the human spirit. The animals and the struggles of men long past that created a world where a woman of remarkable courage could be admired a century after her birth. I would recommend this book to young girls, and women a like, it shows how society does not have to hold back the libertine spirit, not should it limit our choices. I may look into west of night as well.
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