Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

aviator's wifeTitle: The Aviator’s Wife
Author: Melanie Benjamin
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from Library Thing
First line: He is flying.

Goodreads blurb: 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.

Melanie Benjamin has a gift, the knack for taking a real woman, a historical figure, someone her readers may know a little or a lot about, and breathing her right onto the pages of a novel. My knowledge of Anne Morrow Lindbergh was very limited. I knew she was married to the famous pilot. I knew her child was abducted. I read Gift From the Sea several years back, and adored it, but I knew very little about the woman behind the book. After reading The Aviator’s Wife, I feel intimately acquainted with this remarkable and conflicted woman.

Anne’s marriage to Charles was far from the fairy-tale romance they portrayed in public. Charles was a cold, controlling husband, and Anne was torn between her love for him and her desire to be her own woman. Any woman who has experienced the conflict between her own identity and her roles as wife and mother will be able to relate to Anne. Her story must be understood in the context of the time period during which she lived. Women, especially those with multiple children, did not simply leave their husbands. Anne was a product of that era, and she was constantly seeking the approval of her husband, while, at the same time, hating his anger and anti-semitism.

As a contemporary woman, some of Anne’s decisions and actions were difficult for me to understand, and yet Benjamin does such an amazing job of getting inside her head, of making me know her, that I could empathize with her struggle, rather than judge her. Reading her story made me think about my own roles, and about the way I balance who I am as woman, mother, and wife.

“I was Mom. I was Wife. I was Tragedy. I was Pilot. They all were me, and I, them. That was a fate we could not escape, we women; we would always be called upon by others in a way men simply never were. But weren’t we always, first and foremost – woman? Wasn’t there strength in that, victory, clarity – in all the stages of a woman’s life?” ~p. 340, Advanced Reader’s Edition of The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is a master of historical fiction, and she will remain on my list of must-read authors. I am very much looking forward to experiencing many more amazing women through the magic of her pen.

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12 Responses to Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

  1. Jeane says:

    This sounds interesting. I read quite a bit about Charles Lindbergh some years back- curiosity spurred by a school project. I read and loved Gift From the Sea, too. Wasn’t aware of the inner turmoil in her marriage.

  2. irene says:

    I’ve read wonderful reviews on this one, thanks. You usually like what I do, or I usually like what you do.

  3. I want to read this! I admit the cover grabbed me first, but it really does sound good. I don’t normally like to read fiction based on real life people but I know so little about the Lindbergh’s that I don’t think it will matter. Thank you for your great review.

  4. bermudaonion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I’m so excited to see you liked this so much since I just got it!

  5. Heather
    Twitter: BookAddictHeath

    This one’s on my shelf and I’ve been hearing so many good things. Must get to it soon.

  6. Kailana says:

    I really must find time to read this!!