Elizabeth Wein makes me very happy. I love the way I feel when she moves into the between-the-wars period, even when I can’t avoid thinking about what her characters will have to face in just a couple of years’ time (this book is set in 1937). There is something magical about a period when people have all this hope, after that other war.
Stateless is about one person’s wish to promote peace, trying to make it happen when twelve young pilots from as many European countries are brought together in a flying race, where they will travel and talk and hopefully overcome the memories from the Great War. Except there is a fatal incident on the first leg of the race, with just one witness.
The witness is Stella, the British competitor, who already feels she needs to tread carefully, being both the only female pilot, but also the holder of a Nansen passport, meaning she is stateless.
This makes the race dangerous. Who might be next? And who was behind the first incident? The pilots are young and some are hot-headed. Many are scared because of the political situation in the various countries they visit; different for each in each place. Can they make friends, and can they stay alive while trying to find out what’s happening?
Flying is Elizabeth’s strength, and it’s not only this topic that makes her books stand out, but it’s the way the reader learns what the pilot can see – or not see – from the cockpit, because the wings are in the way, or some other thing. You learn how to be less visible if you are being chased by another plane. And you find out – if you didn’t already know – about the political issues of the day; the civil war in Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, the early days of Hitler’s Germany, about being jewish. Immoral music, even.
And the friendships? Enough to make my hair stand on end. Nothing is quite as you’d expect. This Europe of one for all and all for one is exciting. I still haven’t made my mind up as to whether things were more promising then, or now.
At least now you have Stateless to read. Don’t make any other plans until you’re done.