The Aviator’s Wife

Illuminating the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1927 to 1974):  This fabulous historical novel distinguishes itself by its emotional power.  The ending brought me to tears, when I realized, as the author did, that the answer to her meticulously researched question – “Why do we all love the Lindberghs?” – was: “Because of Anne.”

Melanie Benjamin excels here at her craft.  She has dared to stay true to the  achievements of perhaps the “most famous man in the world” in the early 20th century, yet speculates in depth on the emotions behind his exceedingly private character and his wife’s – including the rise of his Anti-Semitic beliefs at a crucial time in history – and she does so slowly, sensitively, perceptively, convincingly.

The world’s flying hero, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, made history in 1927 at the age of 25, when he became the first person to fly solo, non-stop, across the Atlantic in his monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis; he was also a prominent admirer of Hitler.  Benjamin has done a superb job in helping us understand how Lucky Lindy/The Lone Eagle evolved from being an isolationist to Anti-Semitic, which America came to believe he was, and his devoted wife, Anne Morrow, finally, painfully, remorsefully concluded he was, too.

Charles Lindbergh was a terrifically controlling husband with secrets.  He married a woman who perceived herself to be a “dull brown pinecone” compared to her glamorous sister, Elisabeth.  Anne Morrow could never get over the aviation hero noticing her, needing her.  Her deep insecurities came at an enormous personal price, having spent her entire married life melting and acquiescing to his unreasonable, outrageous demands.

And yet, Anne Morrow was also Charles Lindbergh’s courageous co-pilot – “The Flying Couple” – and the first woman to become a licensed glider pilot.  She was also a well-educated graduate of Smith College, carrying her family’s educational legacy (her mother later became the College’s President); an Ambassador’s daughter (her father was Mexico’s Ambassador during the Coolidge presidency); a Senator’s daughter (her father was a Senator during the Hoover administration); a talented writer; and the mother of six children, one of whom was kidnapped, the most famous child kidnapping case in the 20th century.

“The Crime of the Century” came early in this complicated couple’s marriage (1931), and so it had profound, everlasting effects on it.  From the moment Charles Junior was taken from inside their home, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s story is one of heart-wrenching grief, amid unrelenting media attention.  Over the years, her marriage is also one of sacrifices, regrets, self-recriminations, betrayal, as well as forgiveness and resilience.

On page 88 of this 400 page novel, the story fast-forwards to 1974 when mysterious letters are given to Anne.  Then, Benjamin skillfully moves the novel back and forth in time and geography – following the Lindberghs from New Jersey to Berlin to Paris to Michigan to Connecticut and to Hawaii – taking us inside Anne’s heart and soul, gradually revealing the haunting mystery of those letters.

Benjamin’s prose is quite clever: Anne laments that she allowed “only one set of goggles between us;” weaves in quotes from the headlines of Life magazine; and uses nursery rhymes to evoke the grieving mind-set of a mother whose child has been lost to her during infancy, singing Humpty Dumpty is broken and All The Kings’ Men, asking: “Could they put the Lindbergh’s together again?”

To discover the answer, I encourage you to read The Aviator’s Wife!  

Lorraine

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