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2021 Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
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2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Friday, March 05, 2021

Intriguing Dual-Timeline Novel Brings Little-Known American Maritime Disaster to Life

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Later nicknamed "The Southern Titanic," the luxury steamship Pulaski left Charleston, South Carolina, bound for Baltimore on June 14, 1838.  Her passengers were wealthy, well-heeled, and wholly unaware of the tragedy they were about to be a part of.  When a boiler explosion on board destroyed the ship that night, the vessel sunk in just 45 minutes, leaving about 128 people dead.  The others were stranded on the water, forced to endure hunger, thirst, exposure, terror, and illness before being rescued.  Only 59 people survived.  In January 2018, 180 years after Pulaski sank, divers found the wreckage of the doomed ship.

Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan (available March 9) brings the event to life in a dual-timeline novel that explores the sinking and its aftermath in an intriguing blend of fact and fiction.  The story features Everly Winthrop, a modern-day history professor who is asked to help curate an exhibit of Pulaski artifacts for a Savannah museum.  Still reeling from the death of her best friend a year ago, she finds purpose in studying the famous ship and her elite passengers.  She's especially intrigued by the story of a large family of passengers—some members died in the tragedy, some survived, and others' fates remain unknown.  Everly wants to change that.  As she investigates in the present, the reader taken back to 1838 where they're introduced to Lilly Forsyth, an abused aristocratic wife who's forced to make impossible decisions when Pulaski sinks, giving her an unexpected chance at freedom.  What does Lilly choose?  And how does her life change because of it?  What happens to her after the Pulaski sinks?

I had never heard of the Pulaski, so I learned a lot about the ship and its tragic end from Surviving Savannah.  The dual-timeline format is one I always enjoy.  As per usual, I found myself more invested in the past story than in the present one, although both had enough meat to keep me interested.  Even though the historical characters didn't get enough development, I still found them to be a likable, sympathetic lot.  Same goes for the present cast, although I didn't love Everly, who's just too victim-y for me.  I'm all for a sympathy-inducing lead, but I get impatient with too much wallowing—a character has to be at least a little bit selfless for me to really care about them.  Plot-wise, Surviving Savannah moves along at a steady pace, which kept me turning pages.  As for its storytelling, Callahan's prose gets heavy-handed at times (Everly's dialogue, for instance, often feels too formal and flowery). Still, I enjoyed this novel for its colorful historical backdrop, its engrossing story, its intriguing characters, and its capable (if at times overblown) writing. If you like dual-timeline novels about little-known historical events, definitely check this one out. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of novels about Titanic and other maritime disasters)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, violence, and mild sexual content (including references to sexual abuse)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Surviving Savannah from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

7 comments:

  1. I’ve never heard of this book or the ship it’s based on! It sounds interesting. Great review :)

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  2. With most dual timeline novels, I usually end up wishing the author had just focused on one. Sometimes I love both timeline stories equally, but usually I prefer the one in the past where all the interesting stuff is going on. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm with you in that I tend to like the past storyline more than the present when there are dual stories taking place. I also haven't heard of this shipwreck.

    ReplyDelete
  4. For me, I get so vested in the historical aspects of the story. In this story, I would probably end researching about the ship. But yes, I know what you mean. I get like that as well.

    Lovely review, Susan.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I had seen the cover of this book but never took the time to read the blurb but now I need it! The historical elements sound fascinating enough that I can forgive Everly's whininess!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This really sounds good. Like you, I had never heard of this particular tragedy - until I saw your review of this book. Historical fiction based on tragedies or events largely lost to the past are particularly intriguing to me. This kind of explosion was relatively common in those days, making me think that traveling this way was much more dangerous than flying today is. I wonder if they worried about it enough that some refused to use this mode of transportation. I like the cover, too...need to look closer at this one.

    ReplyDelete

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