In the spirit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife, acclaimed novelist Melanie Benjamin pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America’s most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
When Anne Morrow, a shy college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family, 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 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. In the years that follow, Anne becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States. But despite this and other major achievements, she 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.
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The Aviator’s Wife is my second novel by author Melanie Benjamin who specializes in writing historical fiction. I was very fond of her novel Mistress of the Ritz and eager to dive into another story about historical characters.
I was familiar with the name Lindbergh and vaguely aware of baby Charlie’s kidnapping, but was completely unaware of any of the details of their lives or Anne’s vast number of accomplishments.
Both Anne and Charles are complicated people with redeeming qualities that I am not entirely convinced overcome their vices. I did find it hard to like them, especially Charles, but throughout the story you have to keep in mind that they were born a century ago, into a completely different world than exists now.
Both achieved greatness in their lifetimes, but at the expense of interpersonal relationships and family life. I give full credit to Anne for raising their children and bearing the brunt of the family’s burdens. I also had no idea of the extent their lives were intruded upon by well wishers, ne’er-do-wells and the media. Few people have ever lived their lives under the scrutiny this couple did; indeed, Benjamin suggests in the afterword that perhaps the only other person subjected to this treatment is the late Princess Diana.
Charles appears to have been an expert in gaslighting, long before that term was in use, and to my mind was verbally and emotionally abusive to his wife for most, if not all, of their relationship. He was a complicated, difficult, brilliant man.
If you are looking for a story with a happy ending, this is not going to be the romance you dream of. However, it is a fascinating exploration of mid twentieth century America, covering the depression of the 1930, WWII and the post-war years up to the 1970s.
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