Thursday 10 September 2020

Leaving Earth by Helen Humphreys

Today I finished reading Leaving Earth, by Helen Humphreys.

On August 1, 1933, Two Young Women, the famous aviatrix Grace O'Gorman and the inexperienced Willa Briggs, take off in a tiny Moth biplane to break the world flight endurance record. Their plan: to circle above the city of Toronto for twenty-five days.So begins Leaving Earth, a haunting evocation of an era when heroic women defied the limitations of their sex by embarking on perilous ventures. 

Sponsored by the Adventure Girl Almanac, "Air Ace Grace" and Willa soar above the city while below the Depression takes its toll and the shadows of the coming war lengthen. But as the days pass, the women's ties to humanity fall away, and the growing intensity of their connection becomes as gripping as the perils that besiege them. 

For the two pilots, there is no speech over the wind's rush, only an elaborate sign language in which they must invent the world anew. All the while, the endurance test wears on, its outcome jeopardized by fatigue, weather, mechanical breakdown, and the lethal efforts of a saboteur.

This was Humphreys first novel which not only won the won the 1998 City of Toronto Book Award, but it also was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. I can see why.

The story was interesting and suspenseful. From all which I've read and researched of the period, Humphreys did an excellent job of capturing the Toronto of 1933, both in her description of the city itself and the events which took place during the time frame of the book.

The story is not only of the flight, which is described mostly by Willa in the rear cockpit seat, but also on the family of Maddy Stewart, a young 12 year old girl who idolizes Grace O'Gorman. Maddy is the child of a Jewish mother and her Scottish father. The family runs the amusement park at Hanlan's point.

Leaving Earth is a story of endurance, growing a trusting friendship without being able to verbally communicate, the rise of Nazism in Canada and the world below the two aviators struggling with the depression.

It's a novel worth reading.

Helen Humphreys is the author of four books of poetry, five novels, and one work of creative non-fiction. She was born in Kingston-on-Thames, England, and now lives in Kingston, Ontario with her dog, Hazel. Her first novel, Leaving Earth (1997), won the 1998 City of Toronto Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. 

Her second novel, Afterimage (2000), won the 2000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her third novel, The Lost Garden (2002), was a 2003 Canada Reads selection, a national bestseller, and was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Wild Dogs (2004) won the 2005 Lambda Prize for fiction, has been optioned for film, and was produced as a stage play at CanStage in Toronto in the fall of 2008. Coventry (2008) was a #1 national bestseller, was chosen as one of the top 100 books of the year by the Globe & Mail, and was chosen one of the top ten books of the year by both the Ottawa Citizen and NOW Magazine. Humphreys's work of creative non-fiction, The Frozen Thames (2007), was a #1 national bestseller. Her collections of poetry include Gods and Other Mortals (1986); Nuns Looking Anxious, Listening to Radios (1990); and, The Perils of Geography (1995). Her latest collection, Anthem (1999), won the 2000 Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry. 

Humphreys's work has been translated into many languages.


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