Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feeeeeeeeeeeeel you…
Okay, not THAT kind of Titanic. I didn’t actually see the Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio movie until it had been out for something like three or four years (I’m never in a hurry for new releases!). I’ve never been a huge movie buff, but I do enjoy history, and I was in awe when we visited the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri this summer. It’s an odd choice for a museum in a landlocked state, and I was worried it would be a little cheesy, but it really wasn’t. (No pictures were allowed of the inside, so I don’t have any to share.) The entryway to the upstairs is an exact replica of the one on the Titanic itself; looking at pictures of the Titanic’s grand staircases weirds me out a little, having walked up and down these staircases multiple times! The museum itself is a fascinating, yet somber adventure; everything about the tour is respectful of the lives lost and devastated, and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re looking for something to do in Branson.
All that is to say that as soon as we got home, I started combing Goodreads for books about the Titanic (because, let’s face it, I’m a huge nerd). One that looked interesting, was well-rated, and was available at my library was Titanic: Voices From the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic Press, 2012). Some of the best, most informative nonfiction books I’ve read have been meant for younger audiences, so I had zero qualms about picking this 289-page hardcover up from my library’s children’s section.
The book does start out a little dry; it’s heavy on information on the company that built the ship and on shipbuilding itself, but it does pick up quickly, as the main focus is on the people- those who built it, those who steer and command it, those who are passengers on it. Ms. Hopkinson paints a stunning picture of a grandiose ship so massive, both newspapers and its builders claimed it to be ‘practically unsinkable.’ (Famous last words there, folks…) Drawing from interviews, letters, and historical documents, she recreates its journey in its entirety, from its brief sail from Belfast to Southampton, to its terrible sinking in the icy waters of the Atlantic. She then follows a handful of its survivors, briefly chronicling their lives after the tragedy and how they carried on.
The descriptions of the disaster are utterly sobering. The descriptions of the sounds, the horrible roaring sounds as the ship broke apart and people screaming as they fell or jumped to their deaths are absolutely devastating, a testament to both Ms. Hopkinson’s skill as a writer and the strength of the survivors that they could even bear to recount such horrors. I stopped to reread several times, and a few of the passages had me close to tears. What a terrible, unspeakable tragedy, with such a monstrous loss of life.
I learned a few new things from this book that I hadn’t know about the Titanic disaster before. The New York Times achieved status as a major national newspaper due to its early breaking coverage of the tragedy, which I thought was interesting. And Violet Jessop, a stewardess who survived the sinking, continued to work as a stewardess at sea, returning to serving on board another ship just weeks after the Titanic went down. She later barely survived the sinking of the Brittanic, Titanic‘s sister ship- not only that, but she still continued to work at sea until she retired in 1950. Brave? Foolhardy? I’m not sure, but she definitely made different choices than I would have!
One quote had me rolling my eyes practically down the road:
‘The United States Senate lost no time in calling for an investigation of the Titanic disaster. After all, some of the wealthiest men of business and most prominent members of society had perished.’
An investigation was definitely necessary; the lack of lifeboats on board was appalling (and is something I think of often whenever someone is moaning about how regulation is killing us. Perhaps if there had been more regulation on board the Titanic, those 1500+ people would have lived…). But jumping to it because wealthy and famous people died? Just another reminder that so often in society, our worth and how much the powerful care about us is determined not by the contents of our character, but by the contents of our bank account.
I’m working my way through another book on the Titanic right now, and the more in-depth content of that book makes me realize that this book definitely is meant for a younger set, but it’s still a fabulous overview of the disaster and its aftermath, told in the voices of the survivors. If you had a childhood interest in Titanic that has carried over to adulthood at least a little, or you have an older child who has discovered this deeply fascinating catastrophe, Titanic: Voices From the Disaster should be on your list.