Flight of Dreams

Flight of DreamsFlight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
Genres: Historical
Published by Doubleday on February 23, 2016
Pages: 336


About Flight of Dreams (from the back cover):
With everyone onboard harboring dark secrets and at least one person determined to make sure the airship doesn’t make the return trip, Flight of Dreams gives an utterly suspenseful, heart-wrenching explanation for one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century.

On the evening of May 3, 1937, Emilie Imhof boards the Hindenburg. As the only female crewmember, Emilie has access to the entire airship, from the lavish dining rooms and passenger suites to the gritty engine cars and control room. She hears everything, but with rumors circulating about bomb threats, Emilie’s focus is on maintaining a professional air . . . and keeping her own plans under wraps.

What Emilie can’t see is that everyone—from the dynamic vaudeville acrobat to the high-standing German officer—seems to be hiding something. 

Giving free rein to countless theories of sabotage, charade, and mishap, Flight of Dreams takes us on the thrilling three-day transatlantic flight through the alternating perspectives of Emilie; Max, the ship’s navigator who is sweet on her; Gertrud, a bold female journalist who’s been blacklisted in her native Germany; Werner, a thirteen-year-old cabin boy with a bad habit of sneaking up on people; and a brash American who’s never without a drink in his hand. Everyone knows more than they initially let on, and as the novel moves inexorably toward its tragic climax, the question of which of the passengers will survive the trip infuses every scene with a deliciously unbearable tension.

 

As she did with The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress, Ariel Lawhon in her second novel starts with a historical event and imagines what might be behind it. The subject of Flight of Dreams is the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. Even if you aren’t necessarily interested in what happened to the Hindenburg, Lawhon’s novel is mesmerizing from the start, due in large part to the story’s suspense and character development.

Even if you aren’t necessarily interested in what happened to the Hindenburg, Lawhon’s novel is mesmerizing from the start, due in large part to the story’s suspense and character development.

From the beginning of the book, we’re reminded that the story ends with disaster: an explosion and crash landing in New Jersey.  When we discover the name of a handful of characters who are present at the Board of Inquiry hearing, it’s clear they survive the explosion. But I was still curious about what happened and what relationships link these people, particularly Max and Emilie.

The majority of the book follows some of the passengers and crew over the course of the four intense days between boarding and the explosion: Emilie, a kind stewardess and widow; Gertrud, a journalist and mother who is traveling with her older husband; Max, the navigator of the Hindenburg who knows Emilie from prior voyages and is in love with her; the troubled American, whose presence onboard is mysterious; and Werner, the young and impressionable cabin boy. Because the characters are distinct, there’s no trouble keeping them straight.

Lawhon does a fantastic job of stringing things out long enough that we keep turning the pages, but not so long that we get frustrated with being kept in the dark.

Each of these characters has ambitions and secrets, some more dangerous than others. Part of the story’s suspense comes from trying to figure out what each character is hiding and what will happen if they’re found out. Lawhon does a fantastic job of stringing things out long enough that we keep turning the pages, but not so long that we get frustrated with being kept in the dark. The suspense is further heightened by the short length of the chapters and the ongoing countdown until the explosion.

The various areas of the airship are described nicely, with enough details that I could easily picture the scene and sense the atmosphere.

As the story progresses, a complicated web is woven as the characters are forced to protect themselves and their goals, sometimes lying and blackmailing and always taking advantage of the situation. Again, Lawhon is very skilled at scattering clues through the narrative and making her characters act in ways that—while not necessarily admirable—are justifiable or at least understandable. Just when I worried that I might become impatient with some of the bad behavior and rash decisions, something would happen to invoke my sympathies.

 This is an extremely well-written and multi-layered story with an intriguing mystery at its center.

By the end of the story, I had grown to care about these well-drawn characters, and it’s heartbreaking to realize who does not survive the explosion. Since there was a lot going on throughout the story, I was happy to see that all threads seem to be resolved in the closing pages.

This is an extremely well-written and multi-layered story with an intriguing mystery at its center. I haven’t yet read Lawhon’s first novel, The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress, but now I look forward to it.

–Heather


Heather had this book on her most anticipated list of 2016 and when I read the description, I decided I had to read it too. The plot sounded way too intriguing to pass up.  Add to that a historical setting and a healthy conspiracy theory I didn’t see a way that I wouldn’t love this one. I was right too. This is the type of book I love. The historical details blend right into the fiction and the strong characters bring the story alive, transporting the reader to the fateful last journey of the Hindenburg.

The historical details blend right into the fiction and the strong characters bring the story alive, transporting the reader to the fateful last journey of the Hindenburg.

I must confess that I am not at all familiar with the various conspiracies surrounding the Hindenburg. Nor am I particularly knowledgeable about the crash itself or the political turmoil at the time. But reading Flight of Dreams gave me a greater appreciation for this aircraft and a glimpse of how different people viewed this truly remarkable airship. Reading about the design and really considering the mechanisms that made it fly caused me to realize how advanced yet dangerous the Hindenburg really was. However, in listening to the characters discuss why the Hindenburg was using combustible hydrogen instead of helium really highlights the difficulty of protecting civilians without supporting an evil regime.  It is these little bits of history and politics that really brings this story to life.

Reading Flight of Dreams gave me a greater appreciation for the Hindenburg and a glimpse of how different people viewed this truly remarkable airship.

While the plot is truly exceptional and I could probably write ten pages on that alone, it’s the characters that won me over. I loved watching these characters and following them on this journey. Each time I thought I had claimed one as a favorite or decided I didn’t like one after all, they would do something and I’d have to reevaluate my feelings about them. In writing Flight of Dreams, Ariel uses the actual people from the Hindenburg. The story is fictional, but the characters are those who were on board the airship. I’m thoroughly impressed with how these characters develop and carry this story.  I was very attached to them and was heartbroken when some didn’t survive the crash. In the author notes, Ariel indicates that she wants this book to be about the people who were on that flight and she does a wonderful job of honoring their memory.

The plot for this book is quite intriguing and I love how it is presented. The characters’ stories, motivations, and histories are all as mysterious and satisfying as the book’s teaser suggests. The story primarily switches between five different characters, and by following those five people, the reader meets many more. It’s written in the present tense, which I must admit I’m not a huge fan of present tense writing. It tends to feel awkward, which is initially how this book felt as well. A few chapters in and I fell into the rhythm of the book.  Though I generally do not like this tense, I do think it worked very well for this book, especially when the Hindenburg crashed.

While the plot is truly exceptional and I could probably write ten pages on that alone, it’s the characters that won me over.

While I appreciate Flight of Dreams for its fictional story, I most enjoyed the opportunity to find out a bit more about the people and this moment in history. It is a tragedy that thirty-six people died, and a miracle that so many survived. These were ordinary people with different backgrounds and political views, different dreams and goals, but their lives were forever altered. I believe Ariel Lawhon beautifully captures these dynamics. I thoroughly enjoyed Flight of Dreams and highly recommend it for those who love character driven historical novels.

–Melissa

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *