"I Was Amelia Earhart"
By Jane Mendelsohn
Random House, 1996
Reviewed by Dori Knoff-Roselle
As a dedicated reader of women's biographies, I was surprised by my delight
in a petite new book entitled "I Was Amelia Earhart." In her first
novella, Jane Mendelsohn describes what happened to Amelia Earhart and her
navigator after their mysterious disappearance off the coast of New Guinea
The story is set on a Pacific island and follows the conversations of Amelia
as she reviews her life's work, her passion for flying, and her personal
life with famous husband G.P. Putnam. Mendelsohn's use of lyrical phrases
and syncopated sentences leads the reader into a sort of dreamy dance. Her
style of first-person narration combined with third-person narration allows
the reader to move swiftly from reality to illusion. At times I felt completely
immersed in the humidity of the remote tropical island and an intimate participant
in the private introspections of Amelia and her companion. At other times
I seemed to be watching the scenes play out on a distant stage, only a passenger
of the author's imagination.
Her writing takes us above the clouds of the media celebrated image of Amelia
and into the imagined soul of a woman contemplating her own mortality. The
inner monologue of Amelia takes us to that place where she, as a child,
experiences her first flight and her first sisterhood with the airplane.
In the dialogues between her and her navigator we experience the stormy
emotions of a relationship that was based on mutual disdain change into
a relationship of mutual enlightenment. Although the couple is marooned
on a deserted island, the plot does not follow that of a romance novel.
Rather it becomes a story of two individuals, separately and together seeking
some kind of meaning in the chaos of their lives.
Among the many books speculating on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart,
this one may not stand out as a great work. But Jane Mendelsohn's inventive
writing delivers a fresh and colorful painting on the well-worn fabric of
Amelia Earhart literature. So I recommend readers to lighten up and fly
with this one on its short journey. Be sure to pack a skin of good wine
and aged cheese to complete the experience.
From "I Was Amelia Earhart"
This is the story of what happened to me when I died. It's also the
story of my life. Destiny, the alchemy of fate and luck. I think about it
sometimes, under a radiant sun. The tide laughs. The light swims. I watch
the fish-skeleton shadows of the palm leaves on the sand. The clouds ripped
to shreds. [p. 5]
Dori Knoff-Roselle is a part-time medical consultant and writer. She and
her husband, Paul, and two-year-old daughter Anna, live together in their
blue "tree house" on Lake Ripley in Cambridge, Wisconsin.
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