In Flight of Dreams, author Ariel Lawhon takes readers on board the ill-fated final flight of the Hindenburg, from boarding in Germany on May 3rd, 1937, through the conspiracy-laced flight, front and center for the horrific and grisly explosion on May 6th and into the immediate days and months to follow. During this short yet dramatic and fascinating timeline, we get to see events unfold through the eyes of five people on-board: the stewardess, Emilie, the only female crew member; the journalist, Gertrud Adelt; the navigator, Max; the cabin boy, Werner Franz; and the American, who we never learn the name of. Every single one of these characters, and many more, are hiding parts of themselves as well as, in some cases, their real reasons for being on-board the Hindenburg, and as their secrets slowly begin to unfold it becomes a race against time to see who will die and who will survive when the twisted metal wreckage of the Hindenburg finally stops smoldering.
I have to admit that I knew nothing about the Hindenburg explosion, other than the black and white footage of the wreck and the grainy photos most of us have seen, before reading Flight of Dreams. Lawhon does an impeccable job of describing every aspect of the Hindenburg – from the foam and fabric-covered walls to the metal catwalks to the geography of its halls – with such precision that I felt like I was walking it with the characters. The detail given to the layout of the rooms and to the delicious dinner menus added such richness to the story that I couldn’t imagine it any other way…I was on the Hindenburg and it was a sight to behold! But don’t think for a minute that the story is driven solely from its descriptive power. The characters – all of who were real people! – and their various games of subterfuge, kept me turning the pages so I could discover exactly what they were all up to.
Each character’s story is interspersed with the others, changing every few pages so the reader gets to see the same situation or period of time from multiple perspectives. It is also written in the present tense which, for me, really worked to add a sense of immediacy and urgent suspense that I found absolutely delicious. None of these characters are who they first appear to be and by the end I found myself anxious to see how their stories would resolve, some of which were happy endings and some of which were devastating. Reading the Author’s Note at the end lets the reader know that Lawhon stuck to the facts when it came to who lived and who died, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t wish for a different outcome. She breathed such life and heart into these characters that I wanted happy endings for some of the ones that didn’t get to have them in real life.
Flight of Dreams is a spectacular work of historical fiction as well as a whodunnit of the highest order. It accomplishes just what I like most in this sort of story: it stayed true to many of the known facts while filling in the missing pieces with complex emotions, entangled motivations and touches of humanity that are typically lost to the historical record. There is revenge, romance, coming-of-age and a myriad of other story threads to appreciate here that I can imagine any reader finding something to enjoy within its pages. I highly recommend this to any reader, regardless of their genre preferences.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Doubleday. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.