Wednesday, January 10, 2018

book journal: Explosion at Orly by Ann Uhry Abrams

The book I'm most excited about in 2018 is the new novel by Hannah Pittard, Visible Empire. I've loved two of her earlier novels, Reunion (my review) and Listen to Me. Like me, Pittard grew up in Atlanta and now lives in the Midwest. I'd be excited about any new novel by Hannah Pittard, but the premise of this one took my breath away:  "an epic novel—based on true events—of wealth, race, grief, and love, charting one sweltering summer in Atlanta that left no one unchanged. It’s a humid summer day when the phones begin to ring: disaster has struck. Air France Flight 007, which had been chartered to ferry home more than one hundred of Atlanta’s cultural leaders following a luxurious arts-oriented tour of Europe, crashed shortly after takeoff in Paris. In one fell swoop, most of the city’s wealthiest residents perished." How, I marveled, did I manage to grow up in Atlanta and not know about a plane crash that killed 132 people? As I began my quest to know more about this event, I discovered a nonfiction book about it, and I immediately requested it from the library. While I'm impatiently waiting for a copy of Visible Empire, why not read about the real event?

Explostion at Orly: The Disaster That Transformed Atlanta is a fascinating look at both the plane crash and modern Atlanta history. I read this book while I was in Atlanta for Thanksgiving, and it was fun to chat about it with my brother and sister-in-law. I learned a lot about modern Atlanta history, particularly its art scene. While I think some knowledge of Atlanta aided my enjoyment and understanding, Uhry Abrams does a good job orienting the reader. To write this book, she gathered the families of all those who died in the plan crash. This access to the memories and stories provides rich personal details, but it also bogs down the narrative. It's a slippery slope, as she's trying to tell the stories of all of those who took part in some or all of the Paris trip, and that's a lot of people to keep track of. Naturally, I was drawn to the stories of some more than others. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book unless you're really interested in the subject matter--it's written for a specialized audience. It's a fascinating and tragic story, and reading Explosion at Orly made me even more excited to read Visible Empire and see how Pittard will fictionalize this incredible story.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 237 pages
Publication date: September 24, 2002
Source: interlibrary loan
Buy The Explosion at Orly. Pre-order Visible Empire (Kindle edition.)

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