Sunday, November 1, 2009

Breathe The Sky A Novel Inspired By The Life of Amelia Earhart by Chandra Prasad

Of the three novels about Amelia Earhart I have read recently, "Breathe the Sky" is my favourite. It paints a revealing portrait of the dark side of fame. Courting the public and press was a necessary evil in the life of Amelia Earhart; in order to finance her flights speaking engagements, writing books and magazine articles, product endorsements, and public appearances were a must. Ms. Prasad's novel shows us the private Amelia, a woman approaching forty but still bedeviled by feelings of inadequacy, a need to prove herself, to push herself to achieve more and break records, egged on by her husband/manager G.P. (George Palmer Putnam) the ringmaster presiding over the circus of her life. This Amelia is a tired woman, intensely aware of the pressure to keep up appearances, who feels spread too thin between her various commitments to flying, fame, and family. This is a woman who sometimes pulls her car over to the side of the road to catch a quick nap or checks into the hospital for recurring sinus infections just to snatch a little peace and quiet away from the clamor of grasping hands and the adoring masses. Even her mother and sister take advantage of her and even sell stories about her to press.

The novel shifts between the story of her ill-fated last flight and revealing vignettes from her past. Through these tantalizing windows we catch glimpses of her beloved ne'er-do-well drunken father; her friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who pays for secret flying lessons with baskets of blueberry muffins at Amelia's request; her harrowing solo flight across the Atlantic through thunderstorms and equipment failures; we go inside an illegal doctor's office with Amelia when she has an abortion; attend the funeral of a dead cat with G.P, Amelia, and the socialite wife he would divorce in order to wed Amelia; the six marriage proposals it took before she would say "yes"; and we see firsthand how G.P. bamboozled the President of Purdue University into buying Amelia a new plane with a bottle of cognac he claimed was 100 years old but was actually made in a none too clean bathtub not even a year ago.

And there are vivid scenes recreating that famous last flight. Unlike many other accounts of that voyage into oblivion and enduring mystery, this is not a chronicle of details and data or mishaps and misadventures inside the cockpit of the gleaming new Electra, readers get to eavesdrop on conversations between Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan, in whom Amelia sees the shadow of her alcoholic father, and upon whom Amelia has what she describes as a "ridiculous, even masochistic little crush," as the pair share exotic meals and go see the sights during their pitstops in South America, Africa, Indonesia, Singapore, India, and Australia. We see Amelia vexed with the unfamiliar new gadgets in her new plane, including the radio, which Amelia, with her live and learn philosophy, cannot be bothered to take the precious time to master, and we see Noonan battle the demon rum that has him in its thrall. Then there are stomach upsets, romantic tensions, and monsoons to contend with before the couple vanish into the realm of real-life mystery.

If you are fascinated by the enigma of Amelia Earhart, I highly recommend you give "Breathe The Sky" a try; I don't believe this slim little novel will disappoint.

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