What school child hasn't heard of Charles Lindbergh and his historic, solo trans-Atlantic flight? Or about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby? Who hasn't walked through the Smithsonian Museum in Washington and marveled at the seemingly insubstantial and yet amazing The Spirit of St. Louis hanging from the ceiling? But how many people know much of anything about Lindbergh's wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh? Those of us who are bookish (especially we bookish women) have heard of and read her bestselling work Gift From the Sea but generally, in the history books and in life, Anne Morrow Lindbergh stood in the long shadow cast by her husband and his amazing youthful accomplishment. In this novelization of Lindbergh's marriage and adult life, Melanie Benjamin has once again made Anne a marvel herself, given her a voice, and imagined a strong woman maturing into her own.
When shy Anne Morrow travels down to Mexico during her Christmas break from Smith College to be with her family for the holiday, she doesn't expect to meet famous aviator Charles Lindbergh in her father's, the American ambassador to Mexico, house. She is captivated by the man she catches glimpses of behind the facade he presents to the world but she's resigned to him not noticing her in the glow of her older sister's beauty and outgoing personality. But it is quiet, bookish Anne in whom the celebrated Lindbergh sees the right woman to stand by his side. And he chooses well because in addition to being dependable and supportive, her soul also thrills to adventure so that she happily accompanies her husband on his record setting journeys and trips mapping future aviation routes, making history of her own. Anne earned her own pilot's license, acted as navigator and radio operator on many of Charles' flights, and was the first American woman to earn her glider pilot's license. She was both a supportive wife happy to work as Charles' crew and she embraced the exciting potential that the early years of their marriage promised.
But it wasn't easy being the wife of the biggest hero of the age. Fame and celebrity sat uneasily on the Lindberghs' shoulders. And both Charles and Anne faced the pressures differently, creating public personas and hiding their private truths. Their marriage was not the easy fairy tale it seemed either. Charles was domineering, cold, and reserved, incapable of opening up emotionally. He demanded strict adherence to his requirements and imposed impossible standards on Anne and their children. While Anne was a dutiful and acquiescent wife, as much as both Charles and the times called for, she was also torn, once she became a mother, between her deep maternal feelings and a desire to soar with her husband as they once did. She was necessarily more earthbound once children arrived, forcing her to forge a new persona, to become more than just the ornamental aviator's wife that the public saw her as. The Lindbergh marriage was a marriage of two unlikely and very different people and it was challenged and burdened by the realities of life.
As the novel focuses on Anne, the woman behind the legend, and her perspective, the reader sees her struggle to become a fully realized and satisfied woman in her own right even as she always admired and even loved her powerful, overwhelming, and difficult husband. Throughout the course of the novel there is a great change in Anne, a burgeoning independence and a determination borne out in her own confident writing of Gift From the Sea and in her ultimate desire to take charge of her own happiness. Although their life together was not without its flaws and missteps, enormous tragedies and hurtful betrayals, in the end, Anne concedes that she never regretted her choice, making this an honest portrait of a marriage that endured despite the heavy toll of a public life and private anguish.
Benjamin has created an Anne who is intriguing and yet frustratingly trapped in her time. The author's note following the text acknowledges the fictions woven in amongst the known facts, helping to remind the reader that this, while based on the real person, is still fiction. The Charles Lindbergh in these pages is rather unpleasantly repressed, dictatorial, and aloof from his wife and children and Anne is often incapable of defiance, meek and star-struck even as she wants more from Charles than she can ask for or he can give her. The very public aspects of the Lindbergh marriage are covered here, from the tense lead-up and horrifying conclusion to the kidnapping of baby Charlie to Charles' endorsement of Nazi Germany and Anne's written support of his stance. Benjamin doesn't shy away from the unpalatable, facing it head on and showing the impact on this very private public family. The narrative draws the reader in as it paints a picture of a marriage far different than the one that was popularly supposed. Anne's growth and maturation is organic and realistic as her life changes and passes through the stages we all live. Ultimately a captivating portrayal of a woman just outside the limelight, admired for her husband's prowess rather than her own rather formidable accomplishments, The Aviator's Wife will appeal to those who like tales of extraordinary, enduring women as well as those who have an interest in the historical time or want an imagined glimpse into the personal life of the famed aviator and the wife who allowed him to cultivate his larger than life public persona.
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Thanks to Dorothy from Pump Up Your Book and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.