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Book excerpt: "Great Circle" by Maggie Shipstead

Writer and world traveler Maggie Shipstead, the New York Times bestselling author of "Astonish Me" and "Seating Arrangements," returns with "Great Circle" (Knopf), a novel of two interlacing stories featuring a legendary female pilot in the early 20th century, and the actress portraying her in a movie many years later.

Read an excerpt below.


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Knopf

Little America III, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
March 4, 1950

I was born to be a wanderer. I was shaped to the earth like a seabird to a wave. Some birds fly until they die. I have made a promise to myself: My last descent won't be the tumbling helpless kind but a sharp gannet plunge—a dive with intent, aimed at something deep in the sea.

I'm about to depart. I will try to pull the circle up from below, bring­ing the end to meet the beginning. I wish the line were a smooth merid­ian, a perfect, taut hoop, but our course was distorted by necessity: the indifferent distribution of islands and airfields, the plane's need for fuel.

I don't regret anything, but I will if I let myself. I can think only about the plane, the wind, and the shore, so far away, where land begins again. The weather is improving. We've fixed the leak as best we can. I will go soon. I hate the never-ending day. The sun circles me like a vul­ture. I want a respite of stars.

Circles are wondrous because they are endless. Anything endless is wondrous. But endlessness is torture, too. I knew the horizon could never be caught but still chased it. What I have done is foolish; I had no choice but to do it.

It isn't how I thought it would be, now that the circle is almost closed, the beginning and end held apart by one last fearsome piece of water. I thought I would believe I'd seen the world, but there is too much of the world and too little of life. I thought I would believe I'd completed something, but now I doubt anything can be completed. I thought I would not be afraid. I thought I would become more than I am, but instead I know I am less than I thought.

No one should ever read this. My life is my one possession.

And yet, and yet, and yet.

Excerpted from "Great Circle" by Maggie Shipstead. Copyright © 2021 by Maggie Shipstead. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

      
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