Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan
I remember visiting a Titanic exhibit at the Royal Victoria Museum as a teen. Walking amidst the artifacts and recreations, the tragedy came to life in a new way. Blue lights cast across the floor as I clutched a little paper passport — the name of an actual Titanic passenger scrawled across the top. It was only as you arrived at the end of the exhibit that you encountered a wall full of names. Holding my passport up, my eyes flickered along the wall, settling on the name of the young man in my hands.
He hadn’t survived.
But what if the shipwreck hadn’t been well documented? What if you had to piece these stories back together, bit by bit. Dragging silver cups and pocket watches up from the murky depths, historians would piece these fragments back into stories. Tales of the men and women to whom they’d once belonged.
That’s where this story begins. With the story of the Titanic of the South.
About Surviving Savannah:
(From the publisher): 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 faced 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.
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The premise of this book immediately captured my attention. A luxury steamboat that sank in 1838? Recently uncovered? A novel written by Patti Callahan, the bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis?
This dual-timeline novel follows the story of three different women. The 1838 disaster is told through the voices of two passengers: Augusta and Lilly. This was my favourite timeline, by far.
Truthfully, the account of the shipwreck was difficult for me to read — but in the sort of way that marks it as well-written. Augusta and Lilly both fight to save not only their own lives but the lives of young family members around them. As a reader, you can feel the weight and devastation shrouding this event. These are beautiful chapters of heartache and loss and what it means to survive.
Everly’s modern-day timeline explores the premise of building and creating an exhibit that truly speaks to visitors. However, I felt that this storyline was weaker and could have done with a tighter edit. At times it seemed repetitive and didn’t captivate me in the same way that Lilly or Augusta’s perspectives did. (That timeline moved me to tears in all the best ways!)
All in all, Surviving Savannah was clearly well-researched. The account of the wreck was both detailed and personal. Furthermore, I appreciated the discussion about how one survives the surviving. Talking about grief is something I’m personally passionate about and I love when authors tackle this subject.
Overall, I’m leaving this one with 3.5 stars. (Although the 1838 stories would easily be 4 stars for me on their own!) For fans of historical fiction, I can see Surviving Savannah being a great success!