The story of what happened to me when I died: I Was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn

Editor’s Note: In an attempt to work through the implications of having gone half-feral up in Alaska, Tessa is currently using the Seen to explore stories about people who are remembered for disappearing. 

I love playing book roulette. There’s something incredibly satisfying about walking into a library or bookstore and picking a new book entirely at random. Most of the time, I’m fairly disappointed by the quality of whatever I end up reading, but I’m on a hot streak right now. The last three books that I’ve picked—The Island of Lost Maps: A True History of Cartographic Crime, Lamb, and I Was Amelia Earhart—have been uniformly excellent, and by sheer coincidence, each book touched upon the idea of being somehow lost within landscape.


I Was Amelia Earhart dovetails perfectly with The Seen’s current focus on people who are remembered for disappearing. The historical Amelia Earhart was born in Kansas in 1897, and was the first solo female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean. She was headstrong, beautiful, and adored by the public press. She disappeared on July 2nd, 1937 while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, and was declared dead in 1939. The romanticism of her life and disappearance have been a continual source of cultural fascination.


Author Jane Mendelsohn’s novel picks up the loose threads of Earhart’s disappearance, and tells the story of the aviator’s life after crash landing on an isolated island. Mendelsohn’s Earhart finds liberation in her crash, and has no desire to return to the life she previously led:

“There is no difference between being rescued and being captured.”

I don’t want to give away the ending, but suffice it to say that Mendelsohn’s Earhart goes spectacularly and lyrically rouge. Sometimes the ones who are lost have no desire to be found.

“She develops habits that seem incredible in someone like herself, focused and driven and ambitious. She stops waking at dawn and sleeps until noon. She forgets to bathe for days. She lets animals roam her lean-to, and sometimes she falls asleep with a monkey by her feet and a bird perched on her stomach. She walks the beaches in search of truths that had never troubled her in their absence: she thinks about death and miracles and solitude. Those were the days when she became reacquainted with herself, without hoping for anything except the satisfaction of knowing that she had explored an unknown sensation or feeling. This was her only object, and in its pursuit she discovered that she knew only a small portion of the vast landscape that was her soul. It was as if what she had considered to be her self all these years was only a magnified detail of an enormous painting whose entire composition and narrative she had never before known existed, let alone seen. And in this way she began to view the universe differently.”  –Jane Mendlesohn, I Was Amelia Earhart