Monday, November 12, 2012

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 11, 2012

For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong. Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness. Drawing on the rich history of the twentieth century—from the late twenties to the mid-sixties—and featuring cameos from such notable characters as Joseph Kennedy and Amelia Earhart, The Aviator’s Wife is a vividly imagined novel of a complicated marriage—revealing both its dizzying highs and its devastating lows. With stunning power and grace, Melanie Benjamin provides new insight into what made this remarkable relationship endure.

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Mr. and Mrs. Lindbergh
I was excited about getting the chance to read The Aviator's Wife before the official release. Really excited. What I wasn't expecting was how much I would outright enjoy Melanie Benjamin's interpretation of Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  

From the moment her engagement was announced in the papers, the real Anne Morrow was defined by her relationship with Charles. Even today her story lives largely in the shadow of her legendary spouse. Benjamin's book is of course a fiction, but it still offers an interesting glimpse at the hurdles she must have faced. 

The Aviator's Wife begins when Anne was a college student. Privileged but insecure, unsure of the path she wanted to forge. Then, she meets Lindbergh. The plot charts a course through the early years of their marriage, her struggle with his expectations and her efforts to live up to them. It continues on, the young couple become parents, lose a child, and piece together a life while combating the specter of their own celebrity. The book culminates in Charles' death, Anne's reflections on their marriage and the revelation and personal acceptance of her own legacy. 

In short, Benjamin packs some pretty  powerful stuff into of one of the most recognizable marriages in American history. And she does it well. I loved this piece, this story of a woman who lost herself in the roles she felt she had to play: daughter, sister, wife, aviator, author, celebrity, mother. The Aviator's Wife is really about the strength the real Anne exhibited to the world, the courage and fortitude that kept her and Charles together even as the most private moments of their lives graced headlines around the globe. Fiction though it is, Benjamin's work really captured that. 

I swear the book isn't as touchy-feely as I make it sound in this review. Benjamin presents a very dynamic characterization of an incredibly fascinating individual and the events that shaped her life. From the first page to the last, I was absolutely blown away by The Aviator's Wife. 

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I did it. I sat there and nodded and clapped. And I've regretted it everyday of my life since. 
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Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Awesome review. I'm dying to get my hands on a copy of this book. I have always been fascinated by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her book, Gift from the Sea is one of my favorites. Melanie Benjamin sounds like she's done a fantastic job of telling this story.
2 Kids and Tired Books

Anonymous said...

Thank you Holly!

I hadn't ever heard of her having written a book until I read this one. Hoping to find it at my library. Everyone seems to have enjoyed it.