The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Title: The Aviator's Wife
Author: Melanie Benjamin

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1920s / 1930s / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Aviation / Charles Lindbergh / Marriage / Motherhood / Kidnapping / World War II / Politics)
Publisher/Publication Date: Delacorte Press (1/15/2013)
Source: Pump Up Your Book!

Rating: Loved!
Did I finish?: Oh heck yeah.
One-sentence summary: From the 1920s through the 1970s, this novel follows the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife to the famed aviator.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore it -- the color, the layout, the ambiance -- gorgeous!

I'm reminded of...: Sandra Gulland, Susan Holloway Scott

First line: He is flying.

Do... I feel the same way toward Charles Lindbergh after reading this book?: YES -- but I have softened my attitude toward Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Do... I yet again wish I was part of a book club?: YES. In addition to offering reading guides to all three of her novels, Ms. Benjamin is also available to chat with book clubs and groups.

Do... I love the nerdy extras available at Benjamin's website?: YES. For all three of her novels, she has historical background available, and for this one, she links to archives and film footage

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like biographical historical fiction.

Why did I get this book?: I've been dying to read another Benjamin novel after I read and adored Alice I Have Been.

Review: I fell in love with Melanie Benjamin's first novel, Alice I Have Been -- it was emotional and a bit raw, it made human this nearly mythological figure (Alice Liddell) -- and so I have been a slavish fangirl since.  Which is why, as I'm no Lindbergh fan, I still went into this book with some excitement, curious about how Benjamin would handle Lindbergh's politics and later-in-life choices.

If you don't know much about Charles Lindbergh beyond his famous flight on The Spirit of Saint Louis, that won't be an impediment here.  You can learn about him in much the same way his wife Anne Morrow did, by simply spending some time with him.

The novel opens in the 1970s, with Anne facing her dying husband and the proof of his last selfish acts.  As she struggles to make peace with with the man, the story flashes back to their marriage, beginning in 1927 when Anne met Charles.

Anne Morrow was the daughter of an American banker who later became an ambassador.  A student at Smith -- like her sister, like her mother -- Anne was the mousy, quiet, invisible Morrow.  Her older brother Dwight was the Morrow heir; her older sister Elizabeth was golden and clever.  Her younger sister Con was the baby, all excitement and enthusiasm.  But Anne seemed to offer nothing of note until her surprise engagement to famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Their marriage propelled Anne into a world of stardom and fame unseen, Benjamin suggests, until Princess Diana. Chased by the press and public alike, Charles and Anne had to dress in disguises to go out and hire security guards for their homes. Worse, perhaps, was their marriage, full of expectations as well. Charles challenged Anne to be his co-pilot and crew, and she became a licensed pilot and radio operator, breaking records on her own. Yet her fame really lay, of course, in her connection with Charles. Their marriage becomes seriously fractured in 1932 when their 20-month old baby was kidnapped, and to my surprise, Anne's story didn't stop there. (Forty more years of things happen, but I'm not going to summarize them -- you'll want to see how things shake out here.)

Benjamin is a star at biographical historical fiction. She wrestles with the historical record and evokes people who are real, who answer to the choices we know they made. And while I might be dubious of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and seriously judge her as a person, I feel like I got a glimpse of who she was -- and I couldn't shake her. (Although I suppose my only critique -- and this is totally emotional knee jerk stuff -- is that I thought Benjamin was too much of an apologist, voicing for Anne an acknowledgment of Charles' dangerous political beliefs even though, in her lifetime, she made no noise of dissent or disagreement.)

As with Alice I Have Been, I was struck by Benjamin's ability to convey the both the mores and societal attitudes of the time as well as critique of those expectations and behaviors without feeling anachronistic or didactic. 

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Aviator's Wife to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and Canadian readers, ends 3/1.

Comments

  1. Oooh, yay! I'm glad you loved this one. It's been on my list, because the cover suggested it would be my kind of historical! Wheeeee!

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    1. The innards are as lovely as the outtards. ;)

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  2. She does create a very sympathetic character in her portrayal of Anne as the devoted wife who plays second fiddle to her famous but exasperating husband, I agree.

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    1. I was soooooooo nervous I'd hate her -- that can kill a book for me -- but Benjamin really made it work for me -- I don't know that I like Anne exactly but I appreciate what she went through and the decisions she made.

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  3. I have the audio of this book and can't wait to start it!

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    1. Oh, Kathy, you're in for a treat -- I bet this would rock as an audiobook!

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  4. I wouldn't mind reading this as I've little knowledge of the Lindberghs. Because you've pointed out the bias I think it'd make it easier, though it's interesting the author did it, considering what you've written.

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    1. It's obvious from Benjamin's website and Author's Note she really likes Anne -- which is not where I'm at -- and as a result, gives her some wiggle room out of the stickier parts of the Lindbergh legacy. And yet/but her articulation of Anne worked, felt consistent, and made me care very much about what happened to her.

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  5. I will come back to your review. I just popped in to see if you were loving this book as much as I am and you did! I'm about halfway through and I hate having to put it down for anything. I'll be back!

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    1. Before the kidnapping part, I put the book down for a while and totally ignored it -- but it wasn't AS traumatizing as I anticipated. I hope you enjoy the rest of it!

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  6. I haven't been much moved to try this book, but now you've made me see the error of my ways! It does sound like a fascinating glimpse into the lives of a power couple, back before they were everywhere. I have no previous knowledge of Lindbergh, other then the baby that was stolen, so this should be an interesting read for me. I am going to try to get it on audio. Nice review today, Audra! You got me all excited about this book!

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  7. Glad you enjoyed it! I have a review copy of this but haven't started it yet - looking forward to it now :)

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  8. What a fabulous review! I must read this.

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  9. This one has been on my wish list...so of course, I entered the giveaway. Thanks for the review. I, too, loved Alice I Have Been.

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  10. Great review. I'm still on the fence about this one as I'm not a great Benjamin fan.

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  11. Hurray, you loved it! Hope to read this one soon,too.

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  12. I have this one to read. I'm glad to hear you liked this one - I have read a bunch of mixed reviews. We tend to have similar tastes so I have high hopes.

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    1. I think if you're willing to take Anne at face value -- she did appear really passive, and if you're able to let Benjamin's take on the whys settle in, I think the novel will work. I felt for Anne, mostly, so I didn't loathe her -- but I could have easily hated her and possibly liked the novel less for it.

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  13. I finished this one last night and LOVED it! I personally liked Anne.... and hated Charles. He just seemed so cold to me.

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  14. This book sounds so exciting and interesting. I've always been curious about the Lindberghs and why no one ever really figured out what happened with the kidnapping. Your review heightens my interest in Anne who sounds like a woman who never quite found her own backbone and suffered because of it, all the more because she could have been different. But I want to read this book to discover more about her and then see how I feel!

    Thank you for your wonderful review, Audra!

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    1. Oh, Amy, the kidnapping section was so heartbreaking!! It killed me!

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  15. Great review now I really want to read it.

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