Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Was Amelia Earhart

"It was a demented trip. The entire journey, flying as fast as possible like fugitive angels, took more than a month, during which time we spent our days feverish from the flaming sun or lost in the artillery of monsoon rains and almost always astonished by the unearthly architecture of the sky" writes Jane Mendelsohn in the voice of Amelia Earhart as she takes her circumnavigational flight in the summer of 1937.

In the novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, published in 1996, and written from two points of view, both first and third person, the reader both becomes Amelia and watches Amelia, as she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, attempt to circle the globe.

In the Acknowledgments, Mendelsohn tells that it [was] "inspired by the life of Amelia Earhart .. the characters and the events ... fictional."

Regardless, what Mendelsohn imagines that Earhart thought about, said, and did on that flight are not only interesting, but creative and fantastical, apparently based on what Menelsohn read about Earhart's personality and family background as well as that of her only other passenger, Noonan.

At one point in the novel before the flight takes off, Earhart and Noonan discuss aspects of their flight, and when Earhart says, "that's all, " Noonan then replies, "take me around the world. " His seemingly romantic response was anything but that -- Noonan was nervous, fidgety, but committed --- and knew that this opportunity would change his life... for the better. Earhart thinks, "we [both] must have ... known that we shared something, [perhaps] a secret craving for oblivion. But there is no such thing as oblivion. Oblivion is a lie."

The fictional conversations these two shared as they flew together, the weather they encountered, as well as the real meetings held with others on the ground as they refueled or stopped over were chronologically sound --- and Mendelsohn adheres to the history.

The power of this novel was the imaginative, and the way Mendelsohn chooses to present Amelia.

As reflective: "I was bolder than my mother would have liked. I insisted on running around in my bloomers. But my pluck and mettle delighted my father, an apprehensive man with a cowardly nature who liked to tinker with mechanical things and harbored delusions of intrepidity himself. He taught me how to take apart clocks.... and to drive like a professional."

"When she thinks of her father now, she sees him at the end of the day. The late afternoon, when the sun is setting, when it feels sad and beautiful, like the last day. When the sadness is too unbearable to think about."


"Planes used to be vehicles for dreaming. They were strong and curvaceous, manly and womanly at the same time, simple, almost old fashioned mechanical toys and vessels carrying the future. As soon as you saw a plane, you started dreaming. It was a thrill just to catch a glimpse of one. Back then, and its not that long ago, people in the world had never seen a plane, let alone been up in one."

As philosophical: "These were the days when she became reacquainted with herself, without hoping for anything except the satisfaction of knowing that she had explored an unknown sensation or feeling. It was as if what she had considered to be herself all of these years was only a magnified detail of an enormous painting whose entire composition and narrative she had never before known existed, let alone seen. And in this way she began to view the universe differently."

"With love comes the deepest fears of dying."

And, lastly, as poetic: "The sky, however wide and smeared with thick painterly clouds, now seems to her only one square inch of an infinite fresco of the world."

But this is only a smidgen of what Mendelsohn does with this intrusion into the world of American's favorite twentieth century heroine -- to tell you more would ruin the surprise of this novel.

We all know that Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937. Well, I mean, we all know that Earhart disappeared on this flight.

Her disappearance remains one of the mysteries of the time. There is something about the disappearance of someone famous that inspires all of us to wonder -- "what happened? Did she crash and sink? Did she land on an island and live?"

This novel both intrigues and enlightens. :)


  1. I bought a copy of this book from Goodwill just before I left. I didn't have a chance to read it, but I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into it once I get home. Thanks for the review!

  2. You should read Jane Mendelsohn's new book, American Music. It's great and completely romantic.