by Melanie Benjamin
Hardcover (15 Jan 2013), 416 pages.
Publisher: Delacorte Press
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.
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.
Drawing on the rich history of the twentieth century - from the late twenties to the mid-sixties - and featuring cameos from such notable characters as Joseph Kennedy and Amelia Earhart, The Aviator's Wife is a vividly imagined novel of a complicated marriage - revealing both its dizzying highs and its devastating lows. With stunning power and grace, Melanie Benjamin provides new insight into what made this remarkable relationship endure.
Down to earth.
I repeated the phrase to myself, whispering it in wonder. Down to earth. What a plodding expression, really, when you considered itI couldn't help but think of muddy fields and wheel ruts and wormsyet people always meant it as a compliment.
"'Down to earth?' did you hear that, Elisabeth? Can you believe Daddy would say that about an aviator, of all people?"
"I doubt he even realized what he was saying," my sister murmured as she scribbled furiously on her lap desk, despite the rocking motion of the train. "Now, Anne, dear, if you'd just let me finish this letter . . ."
"Of course he didn't," I persisted, refusing to be ignored. This was the third letter she'd written today! "Daddy never does know what he's saying, which is why I love him. But honestly, that's what his letter said'I do hope you can meet Colonel Lindbergh. He's so down to earth!'?"
"Well, Daddy is quite taken with the colonel. . . ."
"Oh, I knowand I didn't mean to criticize him! I was just thinking out loud. I wouldn't say anything like that in person." Suddenly my mood shifted, as it always seemed to do whenever I was with my family. Away from them, I could be confident, almost careless, with my words and ideas. Once, someone even called me vivacious (although to be honest, he was a college freshman intoxicated by bathtub gin and his first whiff of expensive perfume).
Whenever my immediate family gathered, however, it took me a while to relax, to reacquaint myself with the rhythm of speech and good-natured joshing that they seemed to fall into so readily. I imagined that they carried it with them, even when we were all scattered; I fancied each one of them humming the tune of this family symphony in their heads as they went about their busy lives.
Like so many other family traitsthe famous Morrow sense of humor, for instancethe musical gene appeared to have skipped me. So it always took me longer to remember my part in this domestic song and dance. I'd been traveling with my sister and brother on this Mexican-bound train for a week, and still I felt tongue-tied and shy. Particularly around Dwight, now a senior at Groton; my brother had grown paler, prone to strange laughing fits, almost reverting to childhood at times, even as physically he was fast maturing into a carbon copy of our father.
Elisabeth was the same as ever, and I was the same as ever around her; no longer a confident college senior, I was diminished in her golden presence. In the stale air of the train car, I felt as limp and wrinkled as the sad linen dress I was wearing. While she looked as pressed and poised as a mannequin, not a wrinkle or smudge on her smart silk suit, despite the red dust blowing in through the inadequate windows.
"Now, don't go brooding already, Anne, for heaven's sake! Of course you wouldn't criticize Daddy to his faceyou, of all people! There!" Elisabeth signed her letter with a flourish, folded it carefully, and tucked it in her pocket. "I'll wait until later before I address it. Just think how grand it will look on the embassy stationery!"
"Who are you writing this time? Connie?"
Elisabeth nodded brusquely; she wrote to Connie Chilton, her former roommate from Smith, so frequently the question hardly seemed worth acknowledging. Then I almost asked if she needed a stamp, before I remembered. We were dignitaries now. Daddy was ambassador to Mexico. We Morrows had no need for such common objects as stamps. All our letters would go in the special government mail pouch, along with Daddy's memos and reports.
It was rumored that Colonel Lindbergh himself would be taking a mail pouch back to Washington with him, when he flew away. At least, that's what Daddy had insinuated in his last let- ter, the one I had received just before boarding the train in New York with Elisabeth and Dwight. We were in Mexico now; we'd crossed the border during the night. I couldn't stop marveling at the strange landscape as we'd chugged our way south; the flat, strangely light-filled plains of the Midwest; the dreary desert in Texas, the lonely adobe houses or the occasional tin-roofed shack underneath a bleached-out, endless sky. Mexico, by contrast, was greener than I had imagined, especially as we climbed toward Mexico City.
Excerpted from The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. Copyright © 2013 by Melanie Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The Aviator's Wife Reading Group Guide
1. The epigraph for this novel is from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who, like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was both a celebrated author and noted aviator. Do you agree with his statement that "One must look with the heart?" What do you think that means? And do you think it means something different to an artist (author) as opposed to a scientist (aviator)?
2. One of the recurring themes is how Anne will choose to remember Charles. How do you think she concludes to remember him by the end? How does it change?
3. Anne?s father says, "And there?s Anne. Reliable Anne. You never change, my daughter." (pg. 11). How does Anne change over the course of this novel? Or does she?
4. Compare the celebrity of the Lindbergh?s to the celebrity couples of today. What current celebrities do Charles and Anne remind you of most?
5. How does Anne?s nomadic lifestyle as the daughter of an ambassador later influence her concept of "home" with Charles? What do you think defines home?
6. Anne seems to think of herself as an outsidersomeone too shy and insular to make a big impression on someone else. Do you think Charles saw through that? Or, do you think that was something about Anne that appealed to him? Is Charles an insular character himself, whether by personality or forced into a "celebrity bubble?" Or, do you think Anne simply misevaluates herself?
7. Have you ever met someone famous? Did they live up to your impression of them?
8. "Had there ever been a hero like him, in all of history?" (pg. 16) Anne starts her description of Charles with hero worship, comparing him to Columbus and Marco Polo. How does her opinion evolve as she comes to know him better? How did your opinion of Charles Lindbergh evolve through Anne?s story?
9. The title of this book is, of course, The Aviator?s Wife. Do you think that?s how Anne views herself upon marrying Charles? Do you think she sees that as a role she?s playing, or as a defining characteristic of who she is? Does it change over the course of the book?
10. Have you ever been up in a biplane? Do you think you would ever go, even with an expert aviator at the controls?
11. Compare the relationships Anne has to the men in her life: her brother, Dwight, her father, and Charles.
12. What rights to privacy do you think a public figure should have? Does it go against being a public figure to get to decide what parts of his or her life stay private?
13. Do you think Charles and Anne were in love? Why or why not? Did that change over time?
14. Do you think you could keep the secrets that Anne keeps from her children? Why or why not?
15. What do you think flying represents to Anne? How does it compare to her with writing? Which do you think is more important to Anne?
16. Do you think Charles Lindbergh was a good husband in any ways? What do you think makes for a good partner?
17. Is Anne a hero? Why or why not?
18. If you could ask Anne a question, what would it be?
19. How does Anne?s relationship with her family change after she marries Charles?
20. How would you react to the scrutiny by the press that Anne and Charles endured? Would you want to be famous if it meant being constantly under the microscope? Would you answer differently if there weren?t social media outlets but the same type of newspapers and newsreels from Anne and Charles?s lifetime?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Delacorte Press. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
Melanie Benjamin's The Aviator's Wife is a top choice among BookBrowse readers. 17 out of 20 reviewers gave it 4 or 5 stars! Here is what they say about this highly regarded book:
This beautiful, compelling novel is the unfolding of a love story, a slice of aviation history. It reveals what happens when a couple is thrust into the limelight, having to endure unrelenting hounding from the press and the public (Barbara K). Until I read Melanie Benjamin's exquisitely crafted novel, Anne Morrow Lindburgh seemed to be, as the title suggests, simply the aviator's wife. But her remarkable life far outshines that of her famous spouse (Linda P). From the first page, I was hooked and prepared to take flight with Anne Lindbergh on her incredible life journey (Marie D).
Some readers were especially impressed with the depth of Benjamin's characters; interested to learn more about the real dynamics between Charles and Anne:
I am so glad that I read this book. Who knew the Charles Lindbergh was so mean or that Anne was such an accomplished aviatrix in her own right? There is so much more to learn about these two individuals. If what this novel portrays is even partly true, the Lindberghs' story is the perfect proof that no one knows a marriage except the partners and even then one of them may be blind to the truth (Keating V). Even though I knew beforehand the tragic outcome of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh's first child, I found that Melanie Benjamin managed to relate this part of the story with suspense and emotion, with a particular slant on the reaction of Charles at the time and throughout the rest of his life. This novel points up that a hero in private is not always what he seems to be in public (Dorothy T).
And others were spurred on to do more research (or reflect on what they remember) on their own:
What a great story! The author has whet my appetite to want to dig further into the biographies of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles Lindbergh It was also interesting to note that the media had as profound an effect on celebrities then as it does today (Elizabeth K). It is wonderful to read a fictional version of a story and then research the person's life. This story was particularly interesting as it reminded me of the stories I heard about the Lindberghs as a child. To reflect how I felt then to how I feel now... as a mother and a spouse, was very thought provoking. (Teresa R). Excellent reading experience that now has me searching out more about this couple especially Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Marcia M). I enjoyed the book thought it was worth reading just for the historical perspective (Deborah V). Although this is not the best volume of historical fiction I've read, I'd recommend that you persist to discover how Anne Morrow Lindbergh steps away from her husband's shadow and finds courage to live fully as her own self. The author accomplished one of her goals: this reader has been "inspired to research these remarkable lives" more fully (Beth B). I can tell you I read the last line, grabbed a tissue then immediately scrounged up my old copy of Gift from the Sea (see backstory). Don't miss this one! (Lois P)
Other readers were captivated by Benjamin's beautiful writing style, which brings the story to life:
A sad, rich story, told from Anne's point of view, beautifully written in words both accessible and poetic (Judy B). This book had me from the first word, it is well written; the characters are defined in such a way I felt I knew them. Ms Benjamin writes from the perspective of how Anne, Charles and the family were as real, emotional people. The story is based on their true lives but using historical fiction as her method of writing allows her to bring out all the emotions of their lives (Susan B.) The author's style of writing in the first person allows you to become totally immersed in the character of Anne and all her inner conflicts and insecurities in her early years and the strength she exhibits as she is forced to deal with the realities of her life (Brenda D).
Who should read this book?
I am recommending this book to every woman I know, especially in my age group (68). I was raised to be a wife and mother and put aside any career for myself. We were late bloomers because we put our husband and children first but we eventually came to know and appreciate ourselves. The next generation should read this to be aware of what their mothers did for them (Joyce W). This is a great book for book clubs as the Lindberghs made several controversial choices in their lives, choices sure to inspire spirited discussion (Teresa M). In this novel, Melanie Benjamin successfully delves into a complex life led by complex characters A thoroughly enjoyable read a book club hit! (Marie A)
Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
A thoughtful examination of the forces which shaped the author of Gift from the Sea.
Well-researched and paced, this novel will certainly spark readers' interest in learning more about this famous couple.
Starred Review. In true Benjamin style, it's Anne who captures us all in this exquisite fictional take on an iconic marriage.
Kate Alcott, Author of The Dressmaker
Here, passionately imagined, is the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of one of the most legendary American heroes of all time. Vivid and mesmerizing, The Aviator's Wife takes us behind the scenes and into the heart of the woman who loved and married Charles Lindbergh. That was her destiny - a life that took her soaring into the skies and then plunged her to earth, a story of both triumph and pain that will take your breath away.
Nancy, Blue Willow Bookshop
Benjamin does a tremendous job of overlaying the facts with a writer's paintbrush that really make Charles and especially Anne come alive for the reader. This is by far Benjamin's best work to date.
Rated of 5
by Becky H
Fame can be terrifying
This well written fictionalization of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s life from just before she meets Charles A Lindbergh until his death in 1974 is thought provoking. Approximately equal time is given to “the events of 1932” (the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh’s first born child), the early days of the their marriage and Anne’s development as an aviatrix and navigator, and Anne’s life as mother usually left alone as her husband is increasingly absent. Charles’ possible antisemitism and both of their positive opinions of Germany under Hitler’s early days is briefly touched upon.
The novel is the story of their marriage and Anne’s transformation from naïve and easily compliant young girl to confident, self-reliant woman sure of herself and confident of her ability to write. Charles is portrayed as arrogantly self-confident, selfish and controlling of both his wife and children even while also needing Anne’s unflagging support.
I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to others interested in reading/learning more Anne, her marriage and the early days of “women’s liberation”. This book will provide much fodder for discussing marriage, family dynamics, child rearing methods, news gathering and reporting, and America during the Nazi era and during wartime.
Rated of 5
Not just a wife . . .
I’ve been studying Anne Morrow Lindbergh for more than ten years and I found the excerpt in Good Housekeeping from “The Aviator’s Wife” by Melanie Benjamin to be not only a misrepresentation of her early life, but if this continues throughout the book, a travesty to the accomplished woman Mrs. Lindbergh was.
I give classes and presentations on Mrs. Lindbergh, and have written a one-woman play on her (Shells -- a Cameo of Anne Morrow Lindbergh), so I was distressed to see her life turned into a Harlequin novel.
Mrs. Lindbergh had a fascinating and accomplished life: she came from great wealth, she married the world’s most famous hero of her time, she was a pioneering aviator, and she was a significant writer of the 20th century. Her early letters and diaries as well as her public appearances later in life clearly show she was a shy young person. In fact, she described herself as the shiest, most self-conscious adolescent who ever lived. When she met Charles Lindbergh in 1927, she was just months away from graduating from Smith College with the two most prestigious writing awards given by the school. But she absolutely and clearly was not a helpless dunce, at that time or anytime afterward.
Mrs. Lindbergh also said that early on in her marriage, she considered herself a devoted page serving her knight, a role she could play until she grew up. Well, she did grow up. And anyone who has read the latest book of her letters and diaries edited by her daughter Reeve Lindbergh, Against Wind and Tide, would clearly see that Mrs. Lindbergh grew to understand not only her own intelligence and self worth, but also her contributions to Charles’ successes.
So to have a book that defined her life in terms of her husband by the title (The Aviator’s Wife) is an erroneous beginning to even attempt to tell the story of this remarkable woman.
I have read and studied everything I can get my hands on related to Mrs. Lindbergh, so I will read this book. But if it continues to present inaccuracies on every page as well as a frivolous and disparaging attitude toward someone for whom I have so much admiration and respect, I only hope I can finish it.
Rated of 5
by Caroline R. (New Canaan, CT)
a wife's perspective
Very enjoyable and interesting perspective on Charles Lindbergh's life as told through the eyes of his wife. Good character development with the right amount of fact and fiction. I found myself routing for Anne and disliking Charles more than I expected.
Rated of 5
by Johanna M., Anderson's Bookshop, (Naperville, IL)
"A" for the Aviator's Wife
Years ago I enjoyed reading "Gifts of the Sea" and only as I began "Aviator's Wife" did I recall the little book that made me look at shells differently. I read eagerly the life of Charles and Anne all the while hoping they would find true peace in their lives together. I especially enjoyed how Ms. Benjamin described the historical details surrounding Hitler's Germany of the late 1930's. Historical fiction makes history come alive and Ms. Benjamin is one of the best. I look forward to handselling this title for bookgroups to discuss. I have seen Melanie Benjamin's books on the shelves at work and have thought "have to read that next" but, now they are on a pile next to my bed! Look forward to meeting her at her upcoming signing!
Rated of 5
by Kathrin C. (Corona, CA)
A 20th Century Flight
I was first captivated by Melanie Benjamin's writing while reading her debut novel "Alice I Have Been". Her work seamlessly merges historical fiction and biopic - it takes you straight to other times, into other places and reintroduces you to someone maybe you thought you knew of. And there was so much more to know! The Aviator's Wife certainly brought out the very complicated world, relationships, challenges and limitations that Anne Morrow Lindbergh faced in the early and mid-1900s and has also drawn me to want to learn more about her life and her writings.
Rated of 5
by Lois P. (Logan, UT)
A Book to Savor
"The Aviator's Wife" is one of the best historical novels I've read this year! If you're an Anne Morrow Lindberg fan, you'll be glued to the page and admire Anne's resilience and courage even more as the strong woman behind the public image is brought to life. Somehow knowing what's going to happen just makes the story all the more suspenseful. If you don't know much about the Lindbergs, meeting Anne through Melanie Benjamin's eyes is a special treat. I can tell you I read the last line, grabbed a tissue--then immediately scrounged up my old copy of Gift from the Sea. Don't miss this one!
Rated of 5
by Marie A. (Warner, NH)
Who Were The Lindberghs?
In this novel, Melanie Benjamin successfully delves into a complex life led by complex characters. Exquisitely portrayed is Anne Morrow Lindbergh in a way few have been privy to. She is not the shrinking violet forever stuck in the shadow of her famous husband but rather a loving, courageous, strong-willed, intelligent, creative woman. During the course of the novel, Anne comes to realize her strengths as a wife, a mother, and a woman. Anne doesn't need a hero; she is a hero and more than just "the aviator's wife." Anne's voice is strong and reassuring as she relates her own story in the first person narrative.
A thoroughly enjoyable read--a book club hit!
Rated of 5
by Susan B. (Sarasota, FL)
Stunning portrait of the Lindberghs
Melanie Benjamin has written a fictional first person account of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's life. Born in a strong privileged family, meeting the most famous person on earth, a hero of huge magnitude, she marries him and starts the rocky road to find a real person behing the myth.
This book had me from the first word, it is well written, the characters are defined in such a way I felt I knew them. Ms Benjamin writes from the perspective of how Anne, Charles and the family were as real, emotional people. The story is based on their true lives but using historical fiction as her method of writing allows her to bring out all the emotions of their lives. We watch as Anne gains strength to be her own person at the same time she supports and makes excuses for her husband, who diminishes in his own life as a national hero as well as a personal hero and his inability to have any true interaction with her or his children. The kidnapping does not overpower the story but you do feel the anguish of having such a terrible event happen. It is a part of their story but far from the entire story.
This is an excellent book that is destined to be one of the best of 2013.
Book clubs will find a lot of challenging discussions about the Lindberghs
Anne Morrow Lindbergh is, of course, the aviator's wife in the new novel of the same name by Melanie Benjamin. She is also the author of the widely acclaimed book, Gift from the Sea, which was first published in 1955. Anne Lindbergh wrote it while in Florida, on Captiva Island, and she used the shells on the beach as a metaphor to reflect on the lives of American women in the 20th century. Gift from the Sea is the kind of book typically categorized as "inspirational"; within its covers it explores many personal and social issues such as youth, age, love, marriage, contentment, peace and solitude.
Originally written as a series of separate essays, Gift from the Sea reads as though it flowed directly from Lindbergh's head and heart, into her pencil, and onto the page. And in essence, it did. Lindbergh wrote about the pitfalls of modern conveniences and multiple commitments while taking a much-needed break from both of them. The book is unsentimental and direct, while at the same time lyrical and full of grace. It is told in a simple, straightforward style, but its content is anything but simple. It is a carefully constructed examination of complicated issues, but because Lindbergh has chosen just the right details, and has sculpted a precise metaphor, her voice is clear and her message is easy to hear.
Gift from the Sea is a classic that has stood the test of time. No matter what year, or what decade, Anne Morrow Lindbergh's words inspire introspection and self-growth to the person whose hands wrap around them.
One such inspiration, in the midst of countless others: "The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach waiting for a gift from the sea."