North to the Orient, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I've just realized that my TBR tor has several definite strata: books about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, books about Jane Austen, books by P.G. Wodehouse and Anthony Trollope, and travel books. I don't enjoy traveling all that much, except the arm-chair kind, but apparently I like collecting books about travel.
At the end of last week, I had several books waiting at the library, which I couldn't pick up til Saturday. So I was looking for a short book to bridge that time, and I settled on North to the Orient. I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's first volume of diaries and letters, Bring Me a Unicorn, back in college, and in the years since I've collected the other volumes (two languishing on the TBR pile), as well as North to the Orient. I went through a period of fascination with Charles Lindbergh, but I've come to see Anne Lindbergh as the more interesting of the two, and to enjoy her writing very much.
North to the Orient isn't a full-on travelogue, or even a complete account of their exploration of the Great Circle Route in 1931, looking at air routes between America and the Pacific. After an overview of previous voyages dating back to 1508, and an account of the preparations for their 20th century voyage, the book becomes a series almost of vignettes. AML narrates stops in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Japan: encounters with locals (who may or may not be natives), descriptions of scenery, discussions of the practical details of flying. The weather and her responsibility for the radio are constant preoccupations. The last stop was in China, which was suffering disastrous flooding along the Yangtze River. The Lindberghs volunteered for survey flights to determine the scope of the disaster. A trip to one city to deliver a doctor and medicine turned suddenly dangerous as frantic people, desperate for food, stormed the fragile plane.
AML writes in her introduction that at the time of their visits in 1931, the kind of travel, of contact, made possible by flight was on the point of changing the world. She thought it important to record these points of contact, as these changes were just beginning, to leave a record not just of the changes but of what came before.