Novels About Real-Life Women Are Saving Forgotten History

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tags: womens history



There’s the history that everyone is taught in school—and there are those other slivers of the world’s timeline that are glossed over, relegated to becoming Jeopardy! questions. Not everyone gets their stories told; and, often, those “I’ll take Footnotes of History for $200, Alex” are about women. Beryl Markham’s story, for instance, is the kind we should all know but likely don’t: in 1936, Markham became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. As one of the first people in the world to earn a commercial pilot’s license, she was a pioneering aviator—a trailblazer whom the world has forgotten.

Markham left behind a captivating but quietly received autobiography—1942’s West with the Night—but her historic contributions fizzled into relative obscurity. This week, however, best-selling author Paula McLain brings Markham out of obscurity—or at least out of the part of our minds only reserved for Women’s History Month. McLain’s new novel, Circling the Sun (Ballantine), fictionalizes the story of the feminist aviator in 1920s Kenya, depicting the events of Markham’s life that should have made her even more iconic than her male counterparts, whose narratives have become Hollywood screenplays time and time again.

“That I get to put [Markham] back in her rightful place in history seems to be an incredible privilege,” McLain told me. “And what an intimate act to connect through time and space with her story, and to illuminate parts of her history, and shine a light on her life, which really demands another look.”




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