ABOUT THE BOOK:
When Savannah history professor Everly Winthrop is asked to guest-curate a new museum collection focusing on artifacts recovered from the steamship Pulaski, she's shocked. The ship sank after a boiler explosion in 1838, and the wreckage was just discovered, 180 years later. Everly can't resist the opportunity to try to solve some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the devastating night of its sinking.
Everly's research leads her to the astounding history of a family of eleven who boarded the Pulaski together, and the extraordinary stories of two women from this family: a known survivor, Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who was never found, along with her child. These aristocratic women were part of Savannah's society, but when the ship exploded, each was faced with difficult and heartbreaking decisions. This is a moving and powerful exploration of what women will do to endure in the face of tragedy, the role fate plays, and the myriad ways we survive the surviving.
LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan is a 2021 Berkley publication.
An exciting voyage on the Pulaski steamship, suddenly turns into a nightmarish tragedy. On board the ship, are Lilly and Augusta, two women trapped by their societal obligations and expectations.
Thrown into a life or death situation, the women come to a point of reckoning… yet only one of them would make it home to Savannah..
One hundred and eighty years later, the discovery of the sunken Pulaski steamship, once dubbed the ‘Titanic of the South’, gives Everly Winthrop, a professor, a chance to curate the Pulaski exhibit for a museum, providing her with a much needed lifeline.
Since the loss of her best friend, Everly's been riddled with guilt, going through the motions of life, unable to pull herself out a deep depression. As a museum curator, Everly dives into the history of the Pulaski- both figuratively and literally.
I loved the premise of this novel and of course the setting. Savannah is such a storied location the city nearly always steals the show.
I have learned, by now, that when dealing with a dual timeline story, the historical elements are the heart and soul of the novel, nearly always overpowering the contemporary elements in terms of depth.
This book is no exception to that rule, although, I felt the historical portions were not as frequent or fleshed out, as I would have liked.
The author obviously did her homework, though, creating a very vivid picture of the ship, the horrifying disaster, and the struggle for survival.
The mystery of the Pulaski is so interesting it easily makes Lilly and Augusta’s part of the story the most heartbreaking, compelling, revealing, and riveting!
That said, it would have been incredibly hard for Everly to compete with that level of intensity, but her research is what helps to bring the history alive in her contemporary setting.
Still, Everly’s emotions were often palpable, beginning with the heaviness of her spirit, then progressing to her slow building excitement about the museum project, which leads to her eventual reawakening to life and living, which was a wonderful transformation to witness. I loved the way the past blended into the present and was a source of inspiration to Everly.
The book also takes a look at how people cope with what comes after, once they've managed to survive something monumental, still living, seemingly by fate, when others do not. It is a thought provoking topic, as not everyone who survives will go on to live productive or exemplary lives.
Overall, this was just the kind of historical fiction I have been craving. I learned something about a historical event I was not familiar with, and the storyline gave me some psychological elements to chew on. It is always nice to feel one has learned something new. It seems to me that the Pulaski steamship doesn't pop up in historical fiction too often- if ever, which is part of the reason it captivated me, I'm sure. I also really liked the characters, and watching them develop as a fascinating, historical mystery unfolded.
Overall, this was an interesting, memorable and lovely story, all around.
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