I was sent Far Side of the Moon by Liisa Jorgensen last year and as many of you know I am slowly (very) making my way through my tbr piles. I read Far Side of the Moon earlier in the week and this biography was fantastic.
Far Side of the Moon is a biography and the true love story of astronaut Frank Borman and his wife Susan. I’m going to be honest and reveal that I had not heart of Frank Borman before this book. I’m not a NASA expert or anything so the only names I know are Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn. I’ve seen Apollo 13 a handful of times when I was younger and I couldn’t tell you their names off the top of my head without giving it some thought and even then I only remember Tom Hanks’ character’s name, Jim Lovell.
Frank Borman was really famous. I asked my mom if she had heard of him since he was really famous in the 60s and she said she knew of him.
Anyway, the book is about Frank and his love, Susan. The book talks a bit about their childhoods – Frank grew up an only child to loving parents and he was obsessed with planes even as a young boy. Susan had a traumatic childhood after the death of her beloved father and being left with her mother who was emotionally abusive and generally treated her like she was unwanted. Frank and Susan would meet in high school – Frank being older – and an on/off relationship would ultimately result in them getting married in 1950.
The book follows Frank’s career in the Air Force going from post to post and then eventually to NASA as an astronaut. At the same time Susan was working hard to be the perfect military and astronaut wife, which meant being a constant support to your husband, always smiling, and never being a burden while maintaining a beautiful home and taking care of the children. Frank and Susan had two sons and Susan raised them mainly on her own with her husband constantly working.
As Frank’s career soared (pun intended) and he rose in the ranks in the military and then was the commander of Apollo 8, the first mission to fly around the Moon, Susan was left to deal with the anxiety and stress on her own. The military and NASA didn’t have anything set up to support the wives back then. They were just expected to always be smiling and to look pretty. To be anything less would show they weren’t supporting their husbands and that they were unpatriotic. But the fear and anxiety Susan and other wives felt during this time was immense. Their husbands were being shot out into space! The book is called Far Side of the Moon because when Frank was on his mission flying around the Moon, whenever they were on the far side of the Moon, there would be loss of contact. If something happened to the men when they were on that side no one would ever know. So they would all sit and wait anxiously, practically holding their breaths for that excruciating time period, until the would hear the men’s voices on the radio again.
The novel is a great look at the amazing accomplishments of Frank, but it is equally about how amazing and strong Susan was. It is a really candid look at what the wives of these men went through and the mental health struggles that were swept under the rug. NASA doctors even prescribed pills to the wives to keep them too numb to worry or become anxious rather than provide support systems, counseling, etc. Frank and Susan, like other military and NASA couples, saw many tragic deaths during that time period from training accidents to plane crashes, etc. This contributed to Susan’s fears for her husband’s safety – something she would never express until much later in life because “burdening” her husband with her fears would go against what she was taught a good military wife would do.
This book was so good. I couldn’t put it down. Frank and Susan and their love story was fascinating. They loved each other deeply during all the highs and lows of their relationship. There were a few parts in the book that made me tear up, but the ending had me crying for real. It was a very emotional ending.
There is one part of the book that I made note of because it really captures the strength of these wives and how they haven’t been given proper credit for all they did for their husbands and families during this time when their astronaut husbands were major celebrities. It was something Gene Cernan’s wife, Barbara, made just prior to them getting divorced. She said “My name is not going to be in the history books for doing anything like yours will, but I know what I did.’ If you ask most of the astronauts from the 1960s, they would agree with Barbara Cernan. Every one of those extraordinary women should be in the history books right alongside their husbands.”
I’m not a big biography or nonfiction reader so when I really like one you know it has to be good. I highly recommend Far Side of the Moon!
*I was sent this book in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.*