These times of uncertainty make the story of a legendary disaster simultaneously important and irrelevant. Irrelevant because the immediacy and pain of the current situation render any comparison to previous tragedies superfluous; important because the impact such events have on individual lives can touch us today. The Phoenix, a novel about the 1937 crash of the Hindenburg, is such a story.

German writer Henning Boetius actually tells two stories in The Phoenix. The first is that of Edmund Boysen, a sailor turned dirigible pilot, a man whose quest for the clouds mirrors his quest to better himself in society. He is a golden boy, and his golden life is shattered one fateful evening in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The second story, wrapped around the first, is that of Birger Lund, a reporter and passenger on the ill-fated flight. Horribly disfigured and presumed dead, Lund gets a new face and a new identity, and he is determined to discover what actually happened on the Hindenburg. Boetius has impeccable credentials when it comes to this subject. His father was the last surviving member of the crew and was at the controls the night of the crash. Boetius grew up hearing the stories and theories of those events.

It's been widely said that the Titanic's demise marked the beginning of the modern age, but in portraying the Hindenburg tragedy, Boetius has captured another important turning point. Boysen is a man who wears his past like a scar, while Lund, who is scarred, sheds his skin both physically and metaphorically to face the new age. The Phoenix is a moody, enthralling voyage into a past that isn't so far away and a future that is continually being remade.

 

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