Bottom Line: An intimate and intriguing look at a woman long overshadowed by her famous husband, Ms. Benjamin truly brings Anne Morrow Lindbergh back to life.
“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.”
Thoughts: School-aged children around the world know about Charles Lindbergh and his pioneering flight but less is known about the adventurous and brave woman who remained married to him for over 30 years. It took a special amount of fortitude to marry the most famous man in the world, but that was just her first step in a long line of courageous acts. In Melanie Benjamin’s latest historical fiction masterpiece, Anne Morrow Lindbergh is finally more than just The Aviator’s Wife.
For many born in the latter half of the twentieth century and cannot fathom the number of technological changes that occurred during that century, Ms. Benjamin makes it possible to understand the danger required to make such technological leaps. Charles Lindbergh, in his flight across the Atlantic, quite literally changed the world and started it down a path of shrinking it to the global economy it is becoming today. The doubts, the fear, the celebrations – these are things modern readers can never completely understand. However, given today’s paparazzi –filled world, it is all too easy to envision the torment facing the Lindberghs’ every move, from over-excited fans to aggressive press to those attention hounds looking to capitalize on their misfortunes. Ms. Benjamin captures perfectly the strains this constant spotlight put on Anne individually and within her marriage.
As much as The Aviator’s Wife is about Anne, Charles plays a very prominent role in the novel, as he must given his status as the most famous man alive and as an exacting taskmaster. Those same traits which made it feasible for him to defy the odds and pioneer air travel as it stands now does not make for a sympathetic figure or endearing husband. A humble farmer’s son from the Midwest, it is as if he struggled all his life to accept and adjust to the fame which came from his accomplishments even while his driven nature prevented him from staying in the shadows. The impact this had on Anne and the children is heartbreaking even while it creates the truly amazing woman Anne became.
No story about the Lindberghs would be complete without a discussion of the kidnapping and murder of their first-born child in 1932. While The Aviator’s Wife does not dwell on the exacting details, Ms. Benjamin captures the emotional drama that played out behind the scenes. Regardless of whether the story is emotionally fact or fiction, there is no doubt that 1932 was a truly critical year in their lives. The story highlights the pivotal impact the kidnapping and, more importantly, the public’s reaction to it, had on Charles and Anne individually and collectively, even as it highlights the despicable nature of the general public in times of a celebrity’s personal tragedy. These scenes are some of the most distressing in the entire novel and also the most enlightening as it explains their future actions and reactions to each other and the world at large. It is the emotional carnage that occurred because of the kidnapping that laid the foundations for the future of their relationship.
Yet, The Aviator’s Wife is more than just Anne’s reactions to the kidnapping or to adjusting to her famous husband. It covers the years of their marriage, through their highs and lows, and is as much a journey of discovery as any of their pioneering flights around the globe. Anne, and the reader, must reconcile the image of a handsome hero with the aloof, emotionally closed man who was more concerned about his public persona than about his relationships with his wife and children that the story portrays.
In her Author’s Notes, Ms. Benjamin discusses that she always attempts to write the emotional story of any historical figure rather than a rehashing of well-known and lesser-known facts. In The Aviator’s Wife, she succeeds in this, reanimating a woman who, in spite of her faults, manages to hold her own against her larger-than-life husband and obtain the happiness and love she first expected to find in the shelter of her husband’s arms. Most importantly, however, she makes The Aviator’s Wife a poignant love story involving two people who lost their way due to circumstances beyond their control but who remained true to each other in their hearts.