Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: Maiden Flight by Harry Haskell

Title: Maiden Flight
Author: Harry Haskell
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Publish Date: October 1, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Maiden Flight is the true-life story of the Wright sister who in 1926 left her world-famous and intensely possessive older brother to marry newspaper editor Harry Haskell, the man she loved, and suffered the unhappy consequences. An international celebrity in her own right, Katharine embodied the worldly, independent, and self-fulfilled New Woman of the early twentieth century. Yet she remained in many ways a Victorian. Torn between duty and love, she agonized for months before making her devastating break with Orville at age fifty-two.

Cast in the form of three interwoven first-person memoirs, Maiden Flight is imaginatively reconstructed from personal letters, newspaper reports, and other documents of the period—in particular, Katharine’s lively and extraordinarily revealing love letters to Harry. In allowing Katharine to step outside of Wilbur and Orville’s shadow, it sheds new light on the central role she played in their private lives, as well as on her often misunderstood contribution to their scientific work. Above all, Maiden Flight celebrates Katharine’s abundant store of what she called “human nature”—her lively and perceptive outlook on life, her great capacity for both love and indignation, and her acute and sometimes crippling self-awareness."

My Two Cents:

If you're a history lover, you probably know that Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first men to fly and they were renowned for their plane. They were true pioneers and innovators but did you know they had a sister? I had no idea until I read this book! Katharine Wright was a vivacious woman who helped her brothers deal with their fame, trials, and tribulations. She was successful in her own right as well. Told in three voices: Katharine, Orville, and Katharine's eventual husband, Harry Haskell (the author is the grandson of the Harry in the book), this book sheds light on a woman who has largely been lost to history as have so many of those women that have supported the famous men in their lives.

Oh, historical fiction! You do me so right! This book largely takes place well after Wilbur and Orville made their famous flight. What I didn't realize is that for decades, literally decades, the Wright brothers were tangled in a battle with the Smithsonian Institute over who really flew first. The Smithsonian contended for many years that it was actually Samuel Langley, a name that has now fallen out of common knowledge, who was the first to fly. The Smithsonian did not admit that it was the Wright Brothers until 1942! The detail of the battle is fascinating and you can feel the frustration by all sides in the book. I love learning something that I haven't known about before!

Not only is there a strong historical element of this book but there is a very human element as well. Katharine spends a lot of her young life supporting her brothers and their work. She takes care of them and many times seems to put them before herself. Eventually she falls for Harry Haskell, a friend from school, and she falls hard. She realizes that this is something that she wants to pursue and it may mean facing difficult times with her brother. I really liked how the author explores this change in dynamic between Katharine and Orville.

I also have to mention the writing style. The way that the book is set up feels very much like a memoir. Our three characters are looking back into the past. It was great to get a perspective of the action from these different points of view. The author does a great job of creating very separate voices for each of the characters. This was a great book!



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