The first I heard of this book was on a blog called Wandering Bark Books. I was so captivated by the review that I headed straight out to my neighbourhood Chapters store (yes, I’m lucky enough to have one about 5 minutes away) and picked up one of their last copies of it. Heather from Wandering Bark Books was certainly not exaggerating when she enthused her love of this novel.
Flight of Dreams is a gripping story of the lives of nine individuals and a particular family of five out of the ninety-seven people who boarded the Hindenburg on May 3rd, 1937, how their lives intertwined, and their fate as that tragic explosion brought to a close the era of the airship. The cause of the explosion was never determined and Lawhon creates a plausible and compelling scenario given the international tensions, the publicity surrounding the Hindenburg, and the varied reasons her characters — all of whom were really on that voyage although their stories here are fictionalized — have for making, what they had no way of knowing would be, the final voyage of the opulent airship.
The story centres around stewardess, Emilie, adored by Max Zabel, navigator and postmaster, and sought after by the young head chef, Xaver Maier. But her mind is on other things: unbeknownst to her fellow crew members, she is a Jew planning her escape from Nazi Germany. Her plans are not complete as of yet — she is open to opportunities — but hidden in her cabin is her life savings converted to American dollars and her papers that include her mother’s maiden name: Abramson.
The Doehners with their two rambunctious little boys, Werner and Walter, and their eldest, Irene (who has already won the heart of Werner the naïve cabin boy), are also making plans and may or may not be able to assist Emilie. Can they trust her? Can she trust them?
The American has alienated most of the passengers and crew with his portrayal of a drunk on the bus from the hotel to the airship that day and prefers that he be “dismissed. . . underestimated. At least for now”. He is carefully taking his measure of his bearings, his fellow passengers and the crew. He has three days to bring his plans to completion. He has a hidden agenda.
Gertrud Adelt, is a journalist blacklisted in her homeland of Germany because of her outspokenness against the Nazi regime. Her husband, 20 years her senior and also a journalist, is “the only man she has ever met who not only appreciates her gumption but encourages it”. Their voyage has been forced on them by the government and the leaving of their 11-month-old son behind with Gertrud’s mother is the guarantee of their return from America.
The beginning of the book is rather deceptive in a suspenseful way and I’ll say no more than that. Lawhon’s prose is hypnotic, weaving that dream of ethereal events around her complex characters until the dream bursts into flames over New Jersey. One can enter the excitement of the passengers as the airship prepares for take-off, the disgruntled attitude of the chef who had to replace stores in the middle of the previous night because the Gestapo, searching for a bomb, had sampled everything they could from his supplies, the anticipation of the journalist as she scents a deception among certain of the other passengers, and the palpable fear as the stewardess’ secret is discovered and her desperation as she tries to salvage her escape.
I think I must have heard something about the fate of the Hindenburg at school but was not captivated by the horror of it until watching an episode of The Waltons many years later where, John Boy, now working in New York City, is awaiting the arrival of the airship in NJ and is witness to the terrifying spectacle. His verbal description as the original newsreel footage rolled, captured for me the immenseness of the tragedy. This book now expands on the emotion of that moment and its aftermath and makes the reader want to know more — to see the passenger list, to find postcards sent to or from the immense airship, to track down news reports of the event and the reports from the investigation. It is a book born of imagination which unleashes the reader’s imagination and gives them a thirst for more. The author’s story and prose will captivate the reader from beginning to end. * * * * *
To read the opening paragraph and a teaser, go to this link.