In Full Flight by John Heminway

In Full Flight

John Heminway

John Heminway takes readers on a remarkable journey across a haunting African landscape and into a dramatic life punctuated by both courage and weakness and driven by a powerful need to atone.

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The remarkable story of one woman's search for a new life in Africa in the wake of World War II--a life that sparked a heroic career, but also hid a secret past.

Dr. Anne Spoerry treated hundreds of thousands of people across rural Kenya over the span of fifty years. A member of the renowned Flying Doctors Service, the French-born Spoerry learned how to fly a plane at the age of forty-five and earned herself the cherished nickname, "Mama Daktari"--"Mother Doctor"--from the people of Kenya. Yet few knew what drove her from post-World War II Europe to Africa. Now, in the first comprehensive account of her life, Dr. Spoerry's revered selflessness gives way to a past marked by rebellion, submission, and personal decisions that earned her another nickname--this one sinister--working as a "doctor" in a Nazi concentration camp.
In Full Flight explores the question of whether it is possible to rewrite one's troubled past simply by doing good in the present. Informed by Spoerry's own journals, a trove of previously untapped files, and numerous interviews with those who knew her in Europe or Africa, John Heminway takes readers on a remarkable journey across a haunting African landscape and into a dramatic life punctuated by both courage and weakness and driven by a powerful need to atone.


Advance Galley Reviews

Heminway's book gave me the remarkable experience of rooting for the subject of a biography even as the author berates her. There are balanced biographies of complicated people, and there are way too simple biographies written by fans of their subjects. But Heminway clearly feels deeply betrayed, in a very personal way, by the secret that Anne Spoerry managed to keep from him and most of the rest of the world. He describes himself as her friend -- a characterization that is almost laughable as he describes this intensely private woman and her selective relationships -- and his mistaken assumption through decades that she was hiding suffering rather than wrongdoing at a concentration camp during WWII. Most of the book is not, in fact, about her 50 years in Kenya, flying her plane to remote villages and medically treating the sick and wounded. It is mostly a detailed account of the extensive research he did to uncover the truth of her role in Ravensbrück, the background, the context. He gives an almost impossibly detailed account of 3 months of her life there under the influence of another prisoner, with whom she appeared to be infatuated. The times he does describe in Kenya consist mostly of him following her around, listening to her stories (a "distraction", in his evaluation, and he does not share many of these stories she told with us), inevitably leading up to his bringing the concentration camp up and her clamming up. By the last interview he describes with her, following the pattern to a tee, I rolled my eyes at him. So what are we to make of this remarkable book, which did not at all convince me of the author's point of view? The book begins and ends with Anne's funeral, at which many people of very different backgrounds hail her. He focuses on her declining health, her horrifying missteps in WWII, her uselessness running with the country club set in her early days in Kenya. He's out to take her down, and despite all his efforts, I found her delightful. I had not heard of Anne Spoerry before, and she was not a saint, but a complicated human being who decided not to show some aspects of her personality to journalists (she seems bent on appearing hard and professional to him) and to others in her life. I think one problem with my experience of this book is that Heminway was so very familiar with Spoerry's outsized heroic reputation in Kenya that he sought to provide a counterweight to it. But I was unfamiliar with her before reading the book, and am not aware of the entire context he's pushing back against, so the effort came off as a bit ridiculous to me, as if I were watching a one-sided boxing match. I'm sure this book will engender quite a bit of discussion. I do wish it was written with a bit more even hand, by someone who was not so inexplicably personally invested. I recommend it on the sheer power of the story and subject matter. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

John Heminway has written a comprehensive biography of Dr. Anne Spoerry affectionately known as Mama Daktari. However, this is not a simple retelling of Anne’s pastoral life in Africa. It turns out In Full Flight not only refers to the fact she was a flying doctor but also to the fact that she fled from Europe after WWII. Heminway slowly unfolds the circumstances under which she left which ultimately gives even more value to her work in Africa. I foresee this being a big hit with the book club crowd as there are many deep issues to discuss. In Full Flight is a great read that will also leave you thinking.

I requested In Full Flight expecting a gentle memoir about an expat doctor based in Kenya. I enjoy memoirs set in Africa, and the story of this remarkable woman who gave her life and much of her personal wealth to ensuring that the people of East Africa were healthy promised to be a heart-warming, enjoyable book. What I read was something quite different; an interesting account of a woman, her history, and her compulsion to atone for the events of a short period of her life, a period which she continually refused to talk about. In this book, John Heminway has written an excellent investigative piece about Spoerry’s life, specifically the revelations that came to light after her death, and allows us to learn about the many facets of this interesting, much-revered woman.

Unfortunately, I am having issues with getting my downloads to work. :(

Very interesting book that I would recommend. Leaves you pondering what would you have done? Does all the good that you do erase all of the terrible things that you did? What a great book.

In a Flight is the biography of a Jeckle and Hyde woman. It's the story of a courageous doctor who was the first female flying doctor in Kenya; a woman who worked tirelessly for the people and children of Africa for 50 years, ministering to millions and inoculating thousands of children against deadly childhood diseases. But it's also the story of this same woman, interred at Ravensbruck during Wirld War 11 and accused by many woman there of aiding and participating in the torture and murder of many mentally ill inmates. It's thought my many people that knew her that she was forever tormented by her deeds and worked feverishly in Africa to atone for her atrocities. It's a fascinating story and leads the reader to question how much of a persons past can be wiped clean by charitable deeds performed in the present and future. It's easy to admire Anne Spoerry while despising the actions of her youth

In Full Flight, by John Heminway, tells the story of Anne Spoerry, the flying doctor of Africa. I knew nothing of Anne’s history so this was an interesting read for me. Anne is both admirable for all the work she did in Africa, but at the same time difficult to like due to her personality. Spoerry is definitely a woman on a mission to set things right in Africa, following her time in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. The number of lives she saves and care she provides across Kenya is staggering. The author’s dive into her time with Carmen Mory both seems to draw attention away from Spoerry as well as provide explanation for what could be the driving force behind her life choices. While told like a story, it does have a tendency to jump between time periods, leaving you to recall where the story left off in a different time period. Heminway clearly has a tremendous amount of respect for Spoerry and makes an effort of telling an unvarnished story of her life and leaving it to the reader to form their own opinions about her attempts at redemption.

Wow. This will be a great book club book, because there is so much you can discuss and mull over. Very well written.

 


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