Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review - "Amelia Lost"

Sometimes there is nothing quite so exciting as the unknown.  Unsolved mysteries may be frustrating, but they're fascinating in equal measure.  And any biographer who tackles Amelia Earhart must have a deft hand with the mysterious and the unknowable, not only because of the famous aviatrix's legendary disappearance, but because of the layers upon layers of "myth and legend" that Amelia herself piled upon her person during her lifetime.  Candace Fleming touches on this very difficulty in the opening to her Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart.  Where does the image stop and the real person begin?
Fleming does a marvelous job at peeling back the layers of Amelia’s persona and presents a realistic, even handed portrait of a real woman, a woman with dreams and goals, the intelligence to surround herself with the people she needs and the driving force to make her dreams become reality.  Fleming’s Amelia is a complicated woman, and though she treads lightly, Fleming doesn’t shy away from topics that paint her heroine in a bad light.  Among the topics covered in the book are the beginning of Amelia’s relationship with George Putnam, while he was still married, and the numerous aviators and flying professionals who had serious doubts about Amelia’s skills as a flyer.  Fleming clearly has a lot of respect for her subject, and isn’t afraid to show her weaknesses. 
The most fascinating parts of this biography were the accounts of individuals who claimed to have heard the voice of Amelia Earhart through their radios on the day she disappeared.  People like homemaker Mabel Larremore, who heard Amelia’s voice calling for help.  Fleming ends each of these accounts with questions rather than statements.  “Was Mabel’s story really true?”  She doesn’t offer answers to the mystery, but leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions. 
I wouldn’t say I’ve always been fascinated by Amelia Earhart, but like many others, when the topic is broached, I’m an interested listener.  How could you not wonder how someone like that could simply disappear?  How could the Navy have failed to find her and navigator Fred Noonan?  How could Amelia have made such careless mistakes as not learning how to properly use her airplane’s radio communicator?  And why, after all these years, do we still not know for certain what happened that fateful day?  It’s a fascinating story, one I intend to read more about (I’ve already picked up Mary Lovell’s tame but readable The Sound of Wings), and Fleming has delivered a wonderful book, sure to entrance new readers for years to come.
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming
2011, Random House Children’s Books
Library copy

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