Anne 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 Wife. I 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.
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