Friday, April 9, 2010

Did Lindberg Have a Secret Copilot?
A Review
In his latest novel, “Vigilia’s Tempest,” author Stephen Poleskie confronts history as it has been written by posing the question: What if Charles Lindbergh had a secret copilot with him to keep him from falling asleep on his famous flight from New York to Paris, and what if the man who flew with him was still alive? If he could be found, what would he tell us? And why has he kept hidden all these years? Poleskie, an aviator himself, constructs this complicated and perplexing story with a virtuoso display of practical expertise, compassion, and poetic vibrancy.

When John Vigilia, a well-known American stunt pilot, and university professor, lands at an abandoned air base in Canada to avoid a thunderstorm he meets a strange old man named Caliban who tells him the story of his twin brother, Ariel, who as a young boy flew with Charles Lindbergh as his secret copilot on his famous solo trans-Atlantic flight. The copilot was supposedly picked up in Nova Scotia and dropped off on a beach in Ireland, while Lindberg went on to Paris, and to fame, alone. Seeking a diversion after his wife’s sudden death, John Vigilia travels to Europe to explore the truth behind the Lindbergh story he had heard. Unexpectedly, John finds himself in the middle of a decades-old international intrigue. Has John discovered the conspiracy of the century, or is it just the old man’s hoax? And why is John Vigilia now being followed everywhere, and has had an attempt made on his life? One might be tempted to call “Vigilia’s Tempest” a “literary thriller.”

Poleskie takes Vigilia through a series of adventures in Ireland, Rome, Como, and Munich, before finally allowing him to catch up with the alleged copilot, Ariel Angelucci, in Locarno, Switzerland. Ariel reveals that he was indeed in the airplane with Lindbergh when he flew across the Atlantic. Not sure if he believes Ariel’s story, Vigilia takes the man up for a flight in a biplane to see if he really knows how to fly. The old man wants to do some “stunts,” but has a heart attack at the top of a loop, jamming the controls and causing John to crash.

John Vigilia wakes up confined in a private clinic on an island in the Lago Maggiore. He is told that, despite what he believes, there was no one in the airplane with him when he crashed. When his injuries heal, but he is not released, John realizes that he is being held prisoner at the clinic because of what he now knows.

Does Vigilia ever get off the island? I am not going to spoil it by telling you. Suffice it to say that he has a few more adventures, and even a love affair, yet to go before the end of the book. The conclusion is both tragic and uplifting, as are all Poleskie’s endings, confirming the author’s strong sense of the continuity of life.

Poleskie, who writes with a rich and full vocabulary, in the manner of such European authors as Bruno Schulz and Witold Gombrowicz, and with the dark praise of obscurity and failure found in Fernando Pessoa, also manages a tip of the hat to William Shakespeare. “Vigilia’s Tempest” is filled with numerous storms, an island, and character names and chapter quotes from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” At 500 pages this is the longest of Poleskie’s novels to date, but the plot’s many characters and interesting twists will keep the reader engrossed until the very end, and then even wanting more.
Sidney Grayling
Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-4269-2946

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