Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor

The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the TitanicThe Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: 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.

My thoughts: The tragedy of the Titanic continues to intrigue 100 years after the tragedy. Since I read A Night to Remember and the book by Robert Ballard, the scientist who led the expedition that ultimately found the remnants of the Titanic (two miles from the surface of the ocean), along with seeing the movie with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DeCaprio, my understanding of the events are well enough established. In some ways, it is a retelling of the Titanic movie. A lot of descriptions of the size, luxury, detail, and dissonance in class. In other ways, it offered some new perspectives.

The book is loosely based on a real village in Ireland that lost 11 out of 14 from the ship - a huge loss for such a small village. Some of the experiences are also based on these people's lives. Although historically correct, some of them felt forced. The story didn't flow as easily. It was also somewhat repetitive as the story played out then was repeated in a conversation a few pages later. That's a personal writing style and is not wrong, by any means, I just found I could skim that part without missing anything.

What the story provided that was new and interesting was the AFTER. Most of the books and movies about the Titanic focus on the events leading up to the sinking. The author does a wonderful job of describing the experience of being on the life boat, suffering hypothermia, going into shock with hypothermia and shock from losing loved ones and watching the ship sink, waiting 8 hours for the Carpathia, some falling into unconsciousness or semi-unconsciousness, the rescue, the wait, the hospital stays, the mood at the harbor in New York, etc. It is a much more comprehensive picture of what happened AFTER.

Overall, a good read.

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