Cambridge Book Review

"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 in 1937.

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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