Book Review: Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
On the evening of May 3rd, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems; the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart; a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world’s largest airship; an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany; and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.

Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.

Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (Feb. 23, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385540027
ISBN-13: 978-0385540025

About the author:
Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress (Doubleday, 2014) is centered around the still-unsolved disappearance of New York State Supreme Court Judge, Joseph Crater. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.


The Navigator:
This is a world of numbers and precision, a world where you do one thing and there is a specific, predictable outcome. And it is in this moment of deep concentration that he is struck by a thought: it is a pity that he cannot chart the human heart. Were it possible, he would spread Emilie's heart out on the table before him. Smooth out the creases. Measure its latitude and longitude. And then, when he could see the unbroken whole, he would place himself directly in the center.

On May 6, 1937 the German airship Hindenburg erupted into flames while attempting to land in New Jersey. Ninety-seven passengers were on board. The cause of the explosion has never been determined, and the disaster is the basis for Ariel Lawhon’s historical novel, Flight of Dreams.

I wasn’t familiar with this event in history prior to reading the book, so I found myself diving into a little extra research upon completion. For example, I was a little surprised to learn it was U.S. law that prevented the Hindenburg from using helium. It held a monopoly on helium and was concerned that other countries might use the gas for military purposes. Instead, the Hindenburg was forced to reengineer and use hydrogen, a much more flammable gas.

Flight of Dreams is told over the course of the three-day flight in third person from the perspectives of several characters: The Stewardess (Emilie Imhoff), The Journalist (Gertrud Adelt), The Navigator (Max Zabel), The Cabin Boy (Werner Franz), and The American (Edward Douglas). It took me several chapters to get the characters straight and become immersed in their individual stories, but once I got more familiar, I was quickly hooked by the intrigue and mystery running rampant on the airship. Emilie and Max are in love, but she is a widow who is hesitant to open her heart again. Also, fraternization is not allowed among the crew, and she has her own reasons for not wanting to return to Germany after the flight.

The American has booked a passage with orders to kill someone on the ship. Gertrud, who is traveling with her husband, and older journalist, is nervous after hearing whisperings about bomb threats that have been made at the Hindenburg, and because of the couple’s precarious position with the Nazi party. And the 14-year-old Werner is earnest and trying to do a good job, but constantly finds the other passengers and crew blackmailing him in exchange for secretive errands and favors. He has also become smitten with a wealthy young female passenger on board.

The author clearly did extensive research on the inner workings of such an airship, down to the various rooms, the one shower on board, prepared meals, liquor served, the design and mechanics of the ship, and more. I would have loved to see some sort of detailed diagram of the various compartments of the airship somewhere in the pages as an extra bit of content.

Lawhon's explanation for what caused the explosion is probable, but no one knows for sure. In the author’s note at the back of the book, Lawhon clarifies that Flight of Dreams is indeed a work of fiction, but she did extensive research on the characters she wrote about. If they survived the explosion in reality, they survived in the book; likewise, if any of the characters died, their fictional counterparts died as well. All told, 22 crew members, 13 passengers, and one worker on the ground died as a result of the disaster. Because of this, the ending of the novel ends on a heartbreaking tone.

For those who enjoy reading historical fiction, this tale, rooted deeply in the foreshadowing of World War II, is something to sink the teeth into. And it will leave you scouring historical websites to learn more about the people who inspired the characters long after you read the final page.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also works as a blog tour manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Visit her website at


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