It is 1953, and the last great transcontinental air race from London to Christchurch is about to begin, but even before the KLM plane has left the runway, it has already become famous as the “bride flight” for its cargo of brides-to-be flying out to join their fiances on the other side of the world.
Among them are Ada, Marjorie and Esther, who all have their own reasons for wanting to leave the past behind and make a fresh start. And then there’s Frank, a charismatic bachelor with big dreams for the future, whose path will continue to cross with each of the women as they build very different lives for themselves in New Zealand. It is only when they meet again, years later at Frank’s funeral, that the three women realise just how tightly their lives have been bound together by what happened on that fateful voyage.
Bride Flight by Marieke van der Pol was recommended to me by Jannie T, one of the book bloggers I exchanged cards with over the Christmas season. She reads most of her books, if not all, in her own language. She recommended Bride Flight as it had been translated into English and so was accessible to me. She was delighted to recommend it to me because the book is mainly set in New Zealand. I found it at one of our local libraries and have now read it.
It begins with a plane race in 1953, one plane brought with it the brides from the Netherlands to join their fiances. I was a little young to remember this, but I asked some one a little older about this and he remembered it straight away. What fascinated me was that it was completed non stop for the travellers, the plane did stop for refuelling but as far as I remember the passengers only got off once for a 30 minute stretch and also a brief stop in Australia. If you have flown non stop from New Zealand to Europe ( in my case Ireland) then you know how taxing it is. This group of people were on the plane for twice the length of modern flights!
The story is the story of three women who are on that flight and one man – Frank. They are all sitting close together and as the flight takes place their lives begin an intertwining that will go on all their lives. The book goes between the present and the past. It opens with the three women Ada, Majorie and Esther making their way to Martinborough for the funeral of Frank. One of my questions was why is Majorie back in the Netherlands at this point in time? Why did she take flight back to her homeland? Gradually as the story unfolded I came to understand why.
It was fascinating for me to see how it was for these immigrants as they came to settle in New Zealand. The author certainly did her research well as it is very authentic in terms of that time in New Zealand – I grew up in the fifties, so it was interesting to see that time through their eyes. It recalled many things, for example no coffee in New Zealand in the ’50’s! And how these characters missed it.
This is a very gritty, real story – not a romance in case you have been misled by the title. Ada is on her way to meet her husband by proxy – he belongs to the reformed church, and can I just say I did not like him!! Ada is the best looking of the three and her beauty catches Frank’s eye. Esther is a Jew and has a background that she tries to keep the door shut on so that the monsters don’t get out. She is very ambitious and soon ditches any thought of marrying. She wants to make a splash as a top notch clothing designer. Majorie is a Catholic and seems to get the best husband Hans.
The complicated relationships, backgrounds and odd group of people make for a engaging read, I had to keep on reading to find out what happened when? Why is it like this? What did she do? What did he turn out like? Will this character reveal this particular secret or not?
This is not a book I would have picked up myself, so I am grateful for this recommendation, a book that helps me note how life can be complex and people too. And also what is it like to be an immigrant in a new country where you are accepted but it feels like you are never quite ‘one of them’.