Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin has created the most believable, behind the headlines, fictionalized account of
Anne Morrow Lindbergh's marriage to Charles Lindbergh.  The author states that she " is more interested in the emotion, the personal drama, than ... in a history lesson."  So as in most fictionalized accounts, there are some slight changes in time frames and much is inspired by the facts, but not completely documented.  I found the story of Anne's simultaneous devotion to and growing distance from her husband to be very believable. The Aviator's Wife is told in flashbacks, all centered around the last days of hours of Charles' life.  As he is dying from leukemia, Anne is slipped copies of some letters he has asked the nursing staff to mail.  From these letters, Anne learns for the first time about the "other" families - the women and children in Germany.

Actually there is no proof that Anne actually found out about Lindbergh's double life, but I would agree that most of us would like to know that she had the opportunity to confront him about this -- that she would have the chance to know the truth, process it into some kind of acceptance, and then have an opportunity to live her life, fully independent of the great legend who shadowed her every move.  That Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in real life, refused to be buried next to her husband indicates that she really sought such independence.

I think both those who are appalled at the world's interest in celebrities and those who thrive on news of the rich and famous will be surprised at the extent that the Lindbergh's family was cruelly treated, all in the guise of hero worship.

Benjamin's novel is well written, capturing both the mother and wife Anne was, but also the individual, who like many of us, gets hidden behind everyone else's expectations.  The backdrop of America's elite, Germany of the 30s with Lindbergh's isolationist views and then World War II adds an additional depth.  I guarantee that book clubs are latching onto this title and discussions will be lively, with varying opinions.  A final thought - Why does anyone get the right to be a hero?  Does any one event make that person worthy of lifelong idolization?  When we do that, doesn't the hero always fall?  Isn't there always a hidden side, a private side that shows the flaws, that shows that in the end we are all  mere humans?

The Aviator's Wife

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