Book Review: Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Flight of Dreams

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
Published: February 23, 2016 by Doubleday (first published February 16, 2016)
Series: N/A
Other work(s): The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress; Eye of the God
Genres: Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 336
Rating: 3.5/5, R

On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.

Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

The Hindenburg. A flying marvel filled with luxury. Held aloft with hydrogen gas. Shrouded in mystery. Bursting with secrets. Flight of Dreams takes us back in time to the year 1937 and into the three and one-half days of its fateful flight that ended in flames. All the while spinning a tale of mystery and intrigue.

Flight of Dreams recaptures and breathes new vigor into the lives of the Hindenburg’s actual crew and passengers from five different perspectives: Emilie Imhof, the stewardess; Gertrud Adelt, the journalist; Max Zabel, the navigator; the American; and Werner Franz, the cabin boy.

Emilie is absorbed in caring for her passengers, fretting over her feelings for Max, and making plans for a future that conflicts with expectations and desires of those around her. But, as things take a turn for the worse and more rumors and questions emerge, she does all she can to protect her crewmates, her passengers, and, most importantly, herself from lurking danger. Gertrud has reason to believe the airship and its passengers are in danger, and is hell bent on finding the culprit(s) behind it all. More than Emilie distracts Max from his duties–a broken door, a stolen item, a tampered document–but their meanings are lost amidst a lovers’ quarrel, technological mishaps, and an ongoing battle with the elements. The American has a mission or two of his own to complete and must do so under a pall of confusion before he’s found out and his efforts thwarted. Werner is caught in the crossfire, trading in secrets for favors…and to save his own skin.

A threat has been made. Whispers abound of a potential bombing of the Hindenburg, a triumph in early 20th-century aviation. But who would attempt to destroy the airship and why? Can the threat be fully investigated and the danger averted before it’s too late? If not, who will survive and at what costs?

Flight of Dreams is dynamic tale of historical mystery, exploring an interesting theory and simulating firsthand accounts of the events leading up to a puzzling and devastating moment in history. The writing style is very pleasant, for the most part.  I especially loved the descriptions of scenery, and the attention to detail put into them. Since I am no aviation enthusiast, I cannot weigh in on how accurate any descriptions of the Hindenburg or any zeppelin are.  (I only researched enough to give me a general understanding of what was described and a sense of the environment.) And for a book with alternating perspectives, the narrative flowed surprisingly smoothly, a feat in itself.

The pacing is a bit slow at times (or maybe I’m just a little impatient), but the narrative makes up for this with some breathtaking surprises, especially towards the end. This condensed narrative is also teeming with a convoluted plot and so many subplots that I found a little disorienting.

The characters are sufficiently well developed.  I truly appreciate Lawhon’s incorporation of personal facts (even seemingly trivial ones) about these little known figures in history within her fiction.☆ I found myself empathizing the most with Emilie and Werner. Emilie, the first and only female crew member of a zeppelin and a polyglot speaking 10 languages, is not bound by the conventions of her day, which is evident in her interactions with her fellow crew members and her table manners. Her quick wit, attention to detail, aggression, and daring come in handy in not just her career, but in her romantic interplay with Max. Yet behind her serene mask lies the heart of a woman plagued by the loss of her husband, stirred by the signs of a growing Nazi threat and impending war, and seized by new love brewing with a crewmate insistent on winning her affections. She is a mature, strong, and intelligent female character, one in control of her emotions .

Like so many his age, Werner is determined to prove his worth–as a crew member and a man. Fourteen-year-old Werner, a good-natured and hard-working boy, labors aboard the legendary airship to support his family that has fallen on hard times while his father lies ill and bedridden. Through he struggles with reading, he is very clever and resourceful (and a little mischievous), which proves advantageous throughout his trek across the sky. He finds young love on the voyage, subtly working his way into a young girl’s heart…and mine as well.

I couldn’t help liking these two characters most. The others I didn’t care for as much (too pushy, too selfish, too desperate, too thoughtless,…), yet, in many ways, their flaws also made them that much more believable. And their motives helped me better understand their actions, whether or not I agreed with them.

While the story is interesting enough, I don’t believe I’m part of the ideal audience for this book.  Far too much profanity for my taste (although I did learn some German curse words which is handy should I ever get insulted in German), and I didn’t care for the intimate moments either.  (I prefer PG-13 books–on occasion R for more gruesome details, like you might find with sword fights, animals mauling their prey, surgery, etc. You get the point.)

All in all, if you’re a historical fiction fan or just curious about this event or time in history, Flight of Dreams is worth checking out (especially if you’re less sensitive to coarse language). Happy reading!

☆For more information on the real faces behind the characters, click here.

*I received an advanced digital copy of Flight of Dreams from NetGalley.*

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