(Titanic at the docks of South Hampton. Click on photo for credits).
What is about the Titanic that keeps us captivated one hundred and two years later? Is it because we can't get over the fact that man created a supposedly unsinkable ship only to have it sink out from under him on its maiden voyage? Are we fascinated by the microcosm of societal classes that proved to be the difference between life or death? Or are we enthralled with our own sense of mortality and we find ourselves questioning over and over how we would behave if placed on the deck of the doomed ship. Would I be clamoring for a life boat with not a thought to others or would I courageously give up my seat to a child? Could you leave your husband or lover behind knowing that they likely won't survive?
(Titanic's Last Life Boat arriving at the Carpathia click on photo for credits).
Whatever the reason, Titanic still after all these years remains a constant fascination. I have been interested in the doomed ship since I was a young girl. I recall my mom telling me about the unsinkable ship that did indeed sink on its first voyage, and wanting to know more. At the time I first learned about the ship, it was still missing. When I was thirteen, the great ship was finally found and that once again stirred an avid curiosity in me that remains today.
(Titanic's bow June 2004 Click on photo for credits.)
I can't resist a book about this fateful voyage. This week marks the one hundred and second anniversary of the Titanic's maiden voyage and sinking, so I decided to feature a couple of Titanic reads this week beginning with:
The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor
Inspired by true events surrounding a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on the maiden voyage of R.M.S Titanic, The Girl Who Came Home is a story of enduring love and forgiveness, spanning seventy years. It is also the story of the world’s most famous ship, whose tragic legacy continues to captivate our hearts and imaginations one hundred years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean with such a devastating loss of life.
In a rural Irish village in April 1912, seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy is anxious about the trip to America. While the thirteen others she will travel with from her Parish anticipate a life of prosperity and opportunity - including her strict Aunt Kathleen who will be her chaperon for the journey - Maggie is distraught to be leaving Séamus, the man she loves with all her heart. As the carts rumble out of the village, she clutches a packet of love letters in her coat pocket and hopes that Séamus will be able to join her in America soon.
In Southampton, England, Harry Walsh boards Titanic as a Third Class Steward, excited to be working on this magnificent ship. After the final embarkation stop in Ireland, Titanic steams across the Atlantic Ocean. Harry befriends Maggie and her friends from the Irish group; their spirits are high and life on board is much grander than any of them could have ever imagined. Being friendly with Harold Bride, one of the Marconi radio operators, Harry offers to help Maggie send a telegram home to Séamus. But on the evening of April 14th, when Titanic hits an iceberg, Maggie’s message is only partly transmitted, leaving Séamus confused by what he reads.
As the full scale of the disaster unfolds, luck and love will decide the fate of the Irish emigrants and those whose lives they have touched on board the ship. In unimaginable circumstances, Maggie survives, arriving three days later in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia. She has only the nightdress she is wearing, a small case and a borrowed coat, to her name. She doesn’t speak of Titanic again for seventy years.
In Chicago, 1982, twenty-one year old Grace Butler is stunned to learn that her Great Nana Maggie sailed on Titanic and sets out to write Maggie's story as a way to resurrect her journalism career. When it is published, Grace receives a surprising phone call, starting a chain of events which will reveal the whereabouts of Maggie’s missing love letters and the fate of those she sailed with seventy years ago. But it isn't until a final journey back to Ireland that the full extent of Titanic’s secrets are revealed and Maggie is able to finally make peace with her past.Paperback, 384 pagesExpected publication: April 1st 2014 by William Morrow & Company
Source: Publisher in Exchange for an honest reviews
Four stars: An emotional journey of courage, hope and making peace with the past.
Maggie Murphy greets the day with a heavy heart. Today is the day she leaves the only home she has ever known to sail across the Atlantic to America. Seventeen year old Maggie is heartbroken to leave Ireland and the man who holds her heart. Maggie and Seamus are in a difficult position. Seamus can't leave because his father's health is failing and he is the only one who remains to care for his dying father. Maggie's mother passed away over the winter, and she has no one except for her aunts who live in America. Maggie's Aunt Kathleen is insisting Maggie come to America with her. Maggie and thirteen others from her small Irish village set sail on Titanic not knowing the horrific disaster that awaits. Only Maggie and one other survive the sinking. Numb, alone and heartbroken, Maggie shuts down after arriving in America. She is unable to speak about her experiences on the ship until at age eighty seven when she feels it is finally time to break her silence before she passes on. Maggie tells her extraordinary tale to her great granddaughter. It is a story of love, heartbreak, loss, courage and survival. Can Maggie finally let go and find peace?
What I Liked:
- I can't resist a story about the Titanic. I am all but fascinated by the long lasting implications of this tragic event. As people fought for their lives, some displayed the most horrific behavior while others calmly gave up their seats on lifeboats and accepted their fate. It is a story of courage and cowardice, life and death, rich and poor and redemption. I loved that Ms. Gaynor brought forth all the themes that we associate with this great ship and wove it into a story that I truly enjoyed. If you are like me and snatch up all things Titanic, read this book.
- I liked that this book takes place in 1912 and them moves to 1982 in order to meet up with Maggie as an old woman. I thought the author did a great job shifting the story from past to present and I never had an issue with the switches in time. I enjoyed getting to know Maggie both as a seventeen year old girl and as an eight seven year old woman who had lived a full life, despite the fact that she was haunted her entire life by her experience on the ship. I liked getting to know Maggie's great granddaughter, Grace, and watching her struggle with her own burdens. Seeing the two woman come together and share the past was beautiful. I loved the way that it not only brought them closer together but it healed them as well.
- At the heart of the story is a romance. I was relieved though to see that there was no quick, ill fated romance taking place on board Titanic. I think we have been there done that. This romance is born a year before the tragic voyage. Maggie is torn from her home in Ireland and separated from the man she loves. In her coat pocket, Maggie carries the final parting gift from her boyfriend, Seamus. It is a bundle of fourteen letters tied together with a string. One letter for each month of their courtship. Maggie cherishes the letters, and she intends to read them slowly, to get her through. When the ship sinks, she has only read a few of the letters, and the rest are lost. The reader is left wondering until the very end about what happened with Seamus and Maggie and the letters. I loved the ending and was pleased at the final reveals. The romance delivers and I was completely satisfied.
- The majority of the book isn't focused on the sinking of Titanic. In fact, the chapters regarding the actual sinking are quick and there isn't a great deal of time spent on the destruction of the ship and the deaths of all those people. The author moves quickly through the event and then takes the story onto the aftermath. I appreciated that this book wasn't all about the drama and horror of the sinking. The author chooses to keep the story in a positive light. I did like learning a bit more about the arrival of The Carpathia into New York and seeing how the world reacted.
- I gained a new appreciation for what the survivors must have faced after the sinking. Most were plagued by nightmares and feelings of guilt wondering why they had been spared when so many had died. I can't imagine how haunting and horrible it must have been. Even though Maggie lost so much, she chose to bury the Titanic and not speak of it. She decided to live her life to the fullest and take advantage of every day. A beautiful message. I loved watching her finally come to terms with her past and find the peace she had long been seeking.
And The Not So Much:
- While I liked that the book didn't have a heavy focus on the sinking, I was a tiny bit disappointed that there wasn't anything new included. All the details regarding the incident are consistent with the movie and other books. I was hoping to possibly glean something I didn't know before about the tragic sinking, and got nothing.
- This book utilizes multiple view points, so many that it got a bit confusing. Though the author does a good job of marking the shifts, I was always a bit rattled when I had to settle in with yet another character. Even though the additional voices provided some important information, I was interested in Maggie, Grace, Harry and Seamus.
- As with most Titanic stories, this one focuses on the stark division between the third and first classes. Maggie is sailing in third class and through her eyes we see the kind, courageous, hardworking people relegated to the lower decks of the ship. These individuals often gave up everything in hopes of finding a better life. They were an eclectic mix, but they laughed, lived and enjoyed their brief time together on the ship. Up top, we encounter the persona of the first class snob in Vivienne Brown. She takes on the face of all the villainess first class passengers. While I appreciate once again seeing the unfair and cruel division of the classes, I thought the behavior of Ms. Brown was a bit over the top. She comes across as a nasty, self absorbed individual. I have no idea if her character was entirely fictional or if there was a real life basis. No matter, she is everything we have come to associate with the evil first class passengers. I think that over time the vilifying of the first class passengers is a bit over done. I am certain there were a few ill behaved first class passengers, but I think they were not the way the majority behaved. Just like with anything, a few bad apples rots the whole bunch. Thus, the situation with Ms. Brown gives a negative impression for everyone in first class.
- While I loved the romance, I thought the final reveal was a bit contrived. I think that Maggie waiting until the very end to reveal the truth just didn't quite work. Even though it was a bit theatrical, at least I got my happy ending.
- I was disappointed that there wasn't an author's note at the end discussing her inspiration for the characters and if anyone in her story was based on a real life person. The story centers around the fourteen people who left a small Irish settlement, but there isn't any detail regarding the true individuals. I am one of those readers who always likes to know what parts of the story are based on true life events and what is fiction.
The Girl Who Came Home was a fascinating and beautiful story of one woman's journey across the Atlantic on the ill fated Titanic and the lifetime she spent trying to forget. It is a story of courage, love and hope as well as tragedy and loss. If you are a fan of Titanic stories this is a good solid read. I enjoyed the characters and I appreciated the story.
"I heard someone say there are over two thousand people on board this ship, so I would imagine in all of that there are plenty of sad hearts as well as many happy ones."
"To people like me, Titanic wasn't about impressive bedrooms and huge boilers to make her go faster than any liner before her. To me, Titanic was about real people, real live, real hopes for the future. That was what I saw disappearing into the ocean."
"Life is fragile, Grace---it is no more than a petal of cherry blossom: thriving and in full bloom one minute and blown to the ground by a sudden gust of wind the next."
"If we shy away, turn our backs and hide, we will simply never know. And that is when you end up old and wondering and regretting. Live a life of hope. Don't live a life of regret."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.