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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Title: Flight of Dreams
Author: Ariel Lawhon
Publisher: 1 April 2016 by Affirm Press
Pages: 340 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, German, mystery
My Rating: 5 crowns


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.

With enthralling atmospheric details that immediately transport and spellbinding plotting that would make Agatha Christie proud, Flight of Dreams will keep you guessing till the last page. And, as The New York Times Book Review said of her last novel, “This book is more meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off.”

My Thoughts

"Thirty four seconds of catastrophic billowing flames, followed by total, profound destruction. In half a minute the airship went from flying luxury hotel to smoking rubble."

Say the word 'Hindenberg' and most people know of the disaster. But how much do we really know? I was therefore most intrigued to read this fictional account of the passengers who were on this ill-fated disaster. And what a ride/flight it turned out to be. Credit here must be given to Lawhon who takes a story that everyone knows and leads the reader on a journey where you will be totally committed to the very last page. Was it sabotage? Was it mechanical malfunction? Was it meteorological? Does anybody really know?

"But no one cares about the truth. They prefer theatrics and conspiracy theories."

I learned so much and went in search of more information on the Hindenburg - the craft itself, the crew, the passengers, the inevitable crash. History enthusiasts will be in heaven with this read. Lawhon has done her homework to give a face to this tragedy and the people onboard this fateful day. This fictional piece of work is based on well researched facts, where possible - Lawhon's interpretation of what might have occurred onboard based on passenger manifests - and the result is truly suspenseful. Characters based on real people with Lawhon skilfully fabricating possible stories surrounding them. (This is all explained in her 'authors note' at the conclusion of the tale). From the author's note:

"An uneventful flight. But here's the problem: I don't believe them."

"This novel is my attempt at a theory .... with that spectacular moment in history."

"Until I began researching this book, I couldn't tell you the name of a single person on board the airship ... I wanted to know who they were.'

The final chapters I found to be absolutely exhilarating in a haunting and tragic way. I had to read well into the night until I finished as I could not abandon these characters. I have nothing but admiration for the stirling execution of the meld of fact and fiction here. What Lawhon did here was pace the book to perfection. Separate stories commence on embarkation, with characters slowly crossing paths mid flight. The novel is told in multiple POVs from the main characters e.g. “The Stewardess”, “The Cabin Boy”, “The Navigator” etc, with the date and time being regularly given, inclusive of the time until the explosion. Indeed, as the explosion draws close, the pace increases and by the time of impact you are caught up in a frenetic climax. My heart was racing, I was holding my breath as I frantically consumed those final chapters.
"When I think about it logically. It doesn't seem as though such a structure has any business floating through the air."

To repeat, Lawhon takes what the world already knew to be a dramatic event and moves it to the next level. She gives life to those long forgotten names, bringing them back to life, if even for a short fictional time. Her attention to detail has given witness to a truly great historical drama of the highest calibre. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I was enthralled and captivated. Authors note:

"I claim to have no special knowledge. I simply wanted to find a good story and tell it in a way that would bring these people and their journey to life ... I am deeply aware that I have written about people who really lived. I have assumed things about them. I have put words in their mouth."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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