Of all the categories on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge, the first one concerned me the most: a book published this year. With the exception of a few series finales, I can’t think of the last time I read a book the year it was published. Often, I don’t even hear about a book until a year or two later. When I heard about Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawson, I knew I’d found my book. Flight of Dreams is part historical fiction, part mystery. The majority of the novel follows the final 3-day flight of the Hindenburg through the perspectives of three crew members and two passengers on board. There is still some debate about what happened to the Hindenburg, and Lawson makes the most of that ambiguity to heighten the mystery.
Flight of Dreams was the best kind of historical fiction: a perfect blend of background and plot. I couldn’t stop telling Josh about it while I read, and I spent two days online researching the events after I finished reading. Using factual details of the ship, the voyage, and the people aboard, Lawson imagines motivations and situations that give life to the names and dates. The ultimate question (What caused the fire?) hangs over the book, but that is not the only mystery. The people aboard are lovers, enemies, and uneasy allies with plans and secrets of their own. Ultimately, it was the stories of the characters that interested me the most. It is their tragedies that have stuck with me since finishing the book as well. That, and a desire to ride across the Atlantic on a zeppelin. (It sounded much more comfortable than an airline flight.)
In the author’s note, Lawson cites http://facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.com as an invaluable collection of pictures and details about all 97 people aboard the Hindenburg on its final flight. I intentionally did not look at the site (or any other) while I was reading the book, however. Since I didn’t know much about the disaster going into the book, I decided to read it before doing any additional research. I’m glad that I knew as little as I did; it allowed me to fully appreciate the suspense. Hours after I finished the book, I was still searching online for opinions and details about the flight and the people aboard. Now that I’ve finished it and read all about it, I don’t think knowing more about the details of the crash would ruin the book either. Lawson walked that delicate balance well.
The book was not without beauty and joy, but ultimately it is a story of loss. Even though I knew what would happen, I wasn’t expecting the end to be so heartbreaking. I knew some of the characters would die and that all would suffer through the harrowing experience of trying to escape the burning ship, and yet I still found myself choked up at the end. All in all, the book was such a great blend of fact, speculation, and fiction. It left me wishing I would have asked my grandparents about the Hindenburg when I had the chance.
I would recommend this to: fans of historical fiction, readers interested in Germany leading up to the Second World War, and anyone who has ever wanted to take a cruise ship in the air.