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Review: The Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin

the aviator's wifeAnne Morrow is a shy college student when her father, the US Ambassador to Mexico, invites Charles Lindbergh, the world-famous aviator who has just completed the first solo flight from New York to Paris, to his family’s Christmas. Anne hardly knows what to say to Charles, and imagines that he’s fallen for her beautiful sister Elisabeth; but Charles surprises her, inviting her for a secret flight and eventually proposing marriage to her. Covering the whole of the Lindberghs’ marriage, The Aviator’s Wife is a striking portrayal of how Anne’s thinking developed, how she went from biddable, awe-struck wife to become her own person and chart her own course in life.

Having previously read and enjoyed one of Benjamin’s previous books, The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb, I’ve been looking forward to reading The Aviator’s WifeI don’t know much about the Lindberghs, but I had heard of Charles and his flight over the Atlantic in The Spirit of St. Louis, and so I was curious to read about his wife’s point of view. This is especially true once I’d learned that she was a pioneer in her own right, going alongside her husband to make records that no other woman had ever done. I’m all about historical women getting the recognition that they rightly deserve, and just because she was married to a more famous man doesn’t mean she should spend all of history in the shadows.

This was an insightful and thoughtful book; Benjamin has a way with words that makes you feel as though you’re inside her characters’ minds and living their experiences for yourself. I loved her depictions of Anne’s life particularly in the early years of her marriage to Charles, when she felt like everything and anything was possible, and I found her ways of describing how Anne behaved even when she disagreed with Charles to be realistic. Her research seemed thorough; as with all excellent historical fiction authors, she covers in the footnotes what was and wasn’t true, but throughout the whole book I did feel as though there was a ring of authenticity.

In particular, Anne struggles to find herself, especially after she’s had children and lived in the shadow of her husband for years. She isn’t sure what her own purpose is, and I think this will still ring true for many women who define themselves by the people around them rather than as themselves. It really brought her out as a realistic character for me, and the combination of historical fiction and women’s issues worked exceptionally well. Since I knew virtually nothing about these people’s lives, each detail was new to me, even the kidnapping, and so I was as desperate as the characters to find out what happened next and how their stories would progress.

I’d certainly recommend this book to others who enjoy historical or women’s fiction; I was captivated by it, and Anne’s story certainly deserves a second look. I’m now inspired to not only keep on reading Melanie Benjamin’s books, but to seek out a few of the many books that have been written by and about the Lindberghs to add some non-fiction to my newly acquired interest in them.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.

10 comments to Review: The Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin

  • I have been dying to read this one! I love biography and I’ve been fascinated with the Lindberghs (like everyone else) for years.
    Beth F´s last post …Review: Two Nature Books for Kids

  • I’m so glad to see you liked this so much! I’ll be getting it on audio and now I’m really excited about it.
    bermudaonion (Kathy)´s last post …Review: The Racketeer

  • I haven’t heard a lot about this book, but now I really want to check it out. I think I am going to take Kathy’s lead and see if I can order this in audio! Very nice review today!
    zibilee´s last post …Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter — Audiobook Review

  • I just finished this book last night. While I didn’t like it as much as the Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, I found it to be incredibly insightful and informative. I only knew about the Lindberghs from the kidnapping trial. It was nice to learn more about the two, their lives before and after the kidnapping.

  • Thank you for a very nice review.
    Mystica´s last post …BRING UP THE BODIES by HILARY MANTEL

  • I haven’t read anything by Melanie Benjamin but have heard only good things about her work so would be great to try something by her this year.
    jessicabookworm´s last post …The Classics Club: January Meme

  • I read this recently and I loved it too! I didn’t know much about the Lindberghs either so it was good to have the chance to learn more about them.

  • I can’t wait to read this. I have it, but just haven’t had time to read it!
    Kailana´s last post …Anticipating 2013!

  • I have this one on my shelf and it has been sort of calling me… I should really get to it soon!
    Heather @ Book Addiction´s last post …Outside Wonderland by Lorna J. Cook

  • I have spent ten years studying Anne Morrow Lindbergh and give classes and presentations on her life and accomplishments. I would not spend 10 minutes trying to better understand and appreciate the woman depicted in “The Aviator’s Wife.”

    Mrs. Lindbergh was a pioneering aviator, and was given the prestigious Hubbard Medal by National Geographic for her work with Charles in their flights charting routes for Pan Am in the 1930s. She spent nearly six months and traveled 30,000 miles in a single-engine aircraft flying in a big circle around the Atlantic; this was after their similar trip to the Orient. She wrote two best-selling books about these trips, and with her own abilities and craft became a noted author. (As of today, after more than 100 years, the Hubbard Medal has only been given out for 22 events and/or people.)

    Mrs. Lindbergh published 13 books in her lifetime. Gift From the Sea, first published in 1955, is still in print. Over many years, she also wrote numerous articles for various magazines. Perhaps the most revealing book is the one that came out last spring, a book of letters and diaries spanning 1946 to 1986, Against Wind and Tide. Reeve Lindbergh and other family members spent four years going through 40 years of writing, some of it the most personal and revealing writing of Mrs. Lindbergh. It’s a treasure for all her admirers, and especially for someone who has spent years learning about her.

    Ms. Benjamin treats the Lindberghs with disrespect when she writes that Charles laughed and clapped when Bruno Hauptmann was executed for the kidnapping of Charles, Jr. Charles was a different duck, for sure, but even that would be out of character. Ms. Benjamin described the Lindberghs and their employees through Anne’s thoughts when they were looking throughout the house for little Charlie the night of the kidnapping. She said, “. . . I had the strangest urge to laugh, for we resembled nothing more than characters in a Marx Brothers movie.” Again, in such a frantic time for such a sensitive and thoughtful person, I don’t think Mrs. Lindbergh would be anywhere near a laugh or even a smile, let alone a thought about the Marx Brothers.

    Ms. Benjamin treats some subjects in a laughable manner. She made it appear that the Lindberghs and Amelia Earhart had great disdain for each other; nothing could be further from the truth. If Ms. Benjamin had read the diaries and books of both Anne and Amelia, she would know that they admired and had great respect for each other. And why be flip and characterize it otherwise when the truth itself is so interesting. (There are literally dozens of inaccuracies in the book.)

    Ms. Benjamin was likewise sketchy and flip in occasionally dropping in the names of Robert Goddard and Alexis Carrel, people who were import to Charles and his story. She also mentions that Charles became the spokesman for America First and describes it as “ . . . that ragtag group of individuals. . . .” That “ragtag” group included Potter Stewart, Sargent Shriver and Gerald Ford; they were headed by former four-star General Robert Wood, then Chairman of the Board of Sears.

    But what about Rilke and Antoine de St. Exupery, people who were not only important to her but had a great influence on Anne? They were not mentioned. She loved poetry and would either memorize or read poetry for hours flying with Charles sitting in that back cockpit. This notion was not conveyed in the book either.

    Mrs. Lindbergh was a woman of substance — highly educated, incredibly literate and wonderfully expressive in her writing. In her author’s notes, Ms. Benjamin said that “the inner life can be explored only in novels, not histories — or even diaries or letters.” Mrs. Lindbergh’s letters and diaries are all about her inner life and they are cohesive and well thought out. They are truly thoughtful in all ways about every aspect of her life. I would urge everyone to read the series of now six books of letters and diaries to even begin to understand this woman. I’d rather pursue the remarkable woman Mrs. Lindbergh was in order to learn and understand more about her compelling life than to spend even a minute with the one-dimensional aviator’s wife and the disparaged life portrayed in this book.

    (Much of the research and work I’ve been doing on Mrs. Lindbergh is discussed on my website, http://www.moonshellspublishing.com — and on the blog embedded it that (or found separately) — http://www.teawithmrslindbergh.com. ).