Thank you to the lovely people at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for my copy of Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard. All thoughts and images are my own.
Title: Visible Empire
Author: Hannah Pittard
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub date: June 5, 2018
Read if you like: learning about historical events you’ve (maybe) never heard of.
The premise of this book is incredibly promising, but fell flat in its actualization. I had never heard of the disaster of the Air France Flight 007 before receiving Visible Empire from HMH Books and I was shocked to learn about it. My mom grew up in Atlanta, my brother is attending college in Atlanta, and much of my family still lives in the area. How was it possible I’d never heard of this devastating piece of the city’s history? If you’re in my shoes, here is the (very) brief version. In 1962, a plane crashed while returning from France with 122 of Atlanta’s most culturally influential citizens, who had been travelling Europe with the mission of studying their centers of art and history. All of the passengers and eight of the crew members were killed. Visible Empire takes place immediately following this horrific incident, following a number of people who were directly affected, and a few indirectly affected. A fascinating place for a story to begin, right? Sadly, the book did not rise to that challenge. It was solidly fine.
This book is the perfect example of the when the choice to alternate perspectives does not succeed. Not all story lines were created equal – I found myself wishing we could spend more time in certain characters’ lives and less (or no) time in others. I was actually left with the feeling that the most interesting characters involved in this story were unfortunately the ones who had perished on the plane. Regardless, the majority of the plot spiraled away from the incident, and into the corners of the lives of the people left behind – and not in an intriguing way.
However, there is a part of me that wants to stand up for this book because it is the story of a true event that I was completely unfamiliar with. While I was not a fan of the execution, I am a proponent of historical fiction that introduces us to events and communities we, as readers, are not frequently given the chance to learn about. As I’m no longer a student, reading is one of my primary forms of education. Every day, I learn a little bit more about something or someone, thanks to books. From this book, I learned something. I just wanted to learn a bit more.
SYNOPSIS: (AS TOLD BY THE BACK OF THE BOOK)
On a humid summer day, phones begin to ring: disaster has struck. Chateau de Sully, a Boeing 707 chartered to ferry home more than one hundred of Atlanta’s most prominent citizens from a European jaunt, crashed in Paris shortly after takeoff. It is the second-deadliest disaster in the history of aviation. Overnight, the city of Atlanta changes.
Left behind are children, spouses, lovers, and friends faced with renegotiating their lives. Robert, a newspaper editor, must decide if he can reconnect with his beloved but estranged wife, whose swindler parents have left her penniless. Nineteen-year-old Piedmont Dobbs, recently denied admission to an integrated school, sense a moment of uncertain opportunity. And Mayor Ivan Allen must keep Atlanta moving forward – the hedonism of the sixties and the urgency of the civil rights movement at his city’s doorstep.
Visible Empire is the story of a husband and wife who can’t begin to understand each other until chaos drives them to clarity. It’s a story of the promise and hope that remain in the wake of crisis.