Montana resident John Heminway has worked for more than 50 years as a journalist and filmmaker. His fascination with Anne Spoerry, a French-born doctor turned pilot and African medical savior, led to a five-decade-long friendship. His book, In Full Flight, pays tribute to the physician’s work in Kenya following World War II, where her impersonal yet precise manner is said to have helped hundreds of thousands across the continent.
However, an early passage in the biography foreshadows an ominous outcome in the middle of her seemingly heroic career: “In 1948, when Anne Spoerry set foot in Africa for the first time, she was consumed with two dreams, one was to disappear, one was to start over.”
Heminway first recounts Spoerry’s privileged upbringing and her decision, against her parent’s wishes, to pursue a career in medicine. During her matriculation in pre-World War II Paris she began a pivotal position as an agent for the Resistance.
The middle section tackles a mysterious period in her history. Through in-depth research, Heminway pries into the reaches of Spoerry’s imprisonment in the infamous Nazi Ravensbruck concentration camp for women – a time when the doctor, under the spell of Gestapo double agent Carmen Mory, purportedly committed heinous crimes.
In the decades following, many would argue that Spoerry made amends by building meaningful friendships throughout Kenya, flying to remote areas to inoculate and cure thousands well into her 80s. However, to this day, the doctor’s legacy remains controversial.
Ultimately, Heminway captures Spoerry’s complexity and humanity. Beneath the alleged war criminal was an individual haunted by her secrets, who fit in nowhere and was easily manipulated in an utterly demoralizing era and environment. As the title implies, she was both an alienated creature sprinting from a predator, and a triumphant bird soaring over the majestic Kenyan plains. In Full Flight is a riveting read for anyone who has ever felt conflicted, been an outsider, acted against their morals, run from the past, or sought redemption.
Heminway is an award-winning filmmaker who lives in Montana; this is his sixth book.
– Brynn Cadigan