I often find when I’ve been reading a lot of fiction that I need a contrast, often in the form of a non-fiction travel book. This volume, a lovely vintage Penguin I stumbled across recently (when putting the search term “Vintage Penguin” into eBay – always a dangerous move), looked right up my street, and I was correct.

The only other book I’ve read by Anne Morrow Lindbergh is her most famous work “Gift From The Sea” which is a lovely, thoughtful volume and so I assumed I would enjoy her style. Lindbergh is well-known as an aviator, wife of the flyer Charles Lindbergh and also for the tragedy in her life due to the kidnapping and murder of her baby boy. Amazon states:

Three years after her marriage to Charles Lindbergh, Anne Morrow Lindbergh left her infant son with her mother and a nanny in North Haven, Maine, strapped herself into the open cockpit of a Sirius floatplane, and flew with her husband to the Orient, following the Northwest Passage through arctic Canada and Alaska that her husband was surveying for the airlines. Her literate, supremely controlled prose is remarkable quite beyond the adventure itself.

It’s hard nowadays to realise how pioneering this was, when we take airplane travel for granted and all the technology that goes with it. The book is beautifully written and Lindbergh is very humourous about her skills as a radio operator, dealing with very primitive kit. Her descriptions of the strange lands they cross, the little towns they land in where she is the first white woman they have seen, her fear when they are flying blind through fog, are wonderful and evocative. But she is always human, and sees people and things through her heart. The flight takes them across the top of Canada to Alaska, then south via Russia and Japan into China and we get a sense from her lovely prose of what an adventure it must have been to fly in those early days of air travel. When they arrive in China, the Yangtze River has flooded and the Lindberghs are witness to some frightening and poignant scenes while surveying the extent of the floods to try to aid the rescue operation.

The Lindbergh’s plane was damaged in China and so they returned by boat. Some of the most poignant parts of the book for me were when Lindbergh referred to her “baby”, left at home while she travelled, and the part in Russia where she and a Russian woman are bonding over missing their children is unbearable because of what happened later:

Writing North to the Orient between 1931 and 1935 was probably therapeutic. Anne Morrow Lindbergh faced many personal tragedies during this period, including the death of her father, Dwight Morrow, in October 1931, the kidnapping and murder of her first-born son in March 1932. The trial of Bruno Hauptmann in January and February 1935 followed. After the trial, the Lindberghs moved abroad, and lived for a time at Long Barn, the home of their friends Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. The Lindberghs returned to the United States in 1939. (http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/rarebook/exhibitions/penandpress/case11c.htm)

This is a lovely book to read, easy and written in wonderfully descriptive prose and also a record of a pioneering journey – highly recommended.