Monday, April 29, 2013

Survivor Stories from the Titanic

Author: Walter Lord
A Night to RememberRW Holt, 1955260 pages
ISBN 0-03-027615-2
Book Review by Nasser Almareh
  ‘God himself could not sink this ship’ – this is just one quotation which describes Titanic – the ship that embodied all the technical innovations, hopes and fears of the humanity.
        A Night to Remember was written by Walter Lord about the sinking of this great and powerful ship. This book contains real events and stories that were presented to the author by sixty survivors from the real Titanic. Being non-fiction book, A Night to Remember is able to combine historical facts and journalistic approach to create the definite chronicle of events which happened on 15 April 1912. To my mind, the choice of such title of the book was not random. The story had this title, because Walter Lord wanted to stress that the mankind should learn on its mistakes and remember all the events that happened in the past to avoid their repetition. In other words, people can rely on technical development; however they should also be ready for unexpected turn of events and have a back-up plan in case something goes wrong.
        The story takes place on the ship while its sailing along the Atlantic Ocean. The book does not have a single narrator, but different survival stories are presented form different characters. From the beginning, the idyllic picture of the luxury ship is shown to the readers. At one point, the watchman sees the iceberg, however he does not react to this danger, because he (the same as everyone else) is sure that the ship is unsinkable. The passengers continue to have a rest, listen to the music band and enjoy the views even when they hear noises coming from the ship.
        However, when the rumors about the collision with an iceberg are confirmed, people begin to panic. In the course of events it turns out that the number of row boats in not enough to save all the people that’s why only women and children are able to survive. Above all, the author manages to show us many little tragedies of people: the separation of a happy family when mother and three daughters go in the lifeboats but father has to die; the despair of a man who let the woman have his seat in the boat and then got drunk; the story about young people who did not want to fight for seats and stayed at the ship till the end.
        Apart from the people who are placed in the boats, there are passengers on the ship which continues to sink and the crew realizes that they have to react quickly. The next day a wireless call for help is made but no one hears it. The survivors think that there is no hope to save their lives, while in reality they are saved by another boat, the Carpathia.
        Additionally, the book contains a list of all passengers’ names and after each name it is marked whether the person was or was not able to survive. In such a way it is possible to observe the destiny of every man and woman.

Willy Stöwer (22 May 1864 – 31 May 1931) was a German artist,
illustrator, author who 
depicted historical maritime events such as the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.

        The book written by Walter Lord contains his own psychological research about people’s behavior in an emergency. Thus, the human aspect is an essential part of the Titanic story. Every person reacts in a specific way, which shows peculiarities and features of the character. For instance, when people find out information about the danger all of them try to save valuable things. However, the majority takes money and jewelry, while only one boy grasps the Bible. To my mind, it illustrates us how materialistic the people are and even in an emergency they continue to worry about their things, but not about spiritual values.
        Trying to save their lives some people behaved like animals, others – tried to help, no matter how complicated it was. One of the most emotional moments in the book was connected with the music band, which played while the rest of the people were running, crying and screaming. In critical situation some passengers waited calmly, some jumped from the deck into icy water. Hence, the real potential of the person, main benefits and drawbacks of the character are realized in life-or-death situations.
        Two more features that are demonstrated by the author are arrogance and carelessness. If people reacted quicker to the signs of danger, they could have been saved. However, they believed in technology which developed rapidly and even could not imagine the fact that something could be out of control. Moreover, this accident showed how fragile the life of the person is.
        Not only did this book touch psychological but also social and political aspects. Division into three classes is rather obvious. When the first-class passengers were given the boats, the third-class was locked in their compartments and doomed to die. Only some people managed to survive and get on the boats. Nevertheless, such cases were mostly exceptional than regular. What’s particularly remarkable is that all people at the ship knew about such order and even were not surprised by this social inequality.
        All things considered, the ship itself stands as a symbol of the society’s microcosm. Therefore, the author depicted the environment in which he lived with the help of the biggest victory and defeat of his time – Titanic.
        Walter Lord narrates about everything in a very realistic manner. Furthermore, the author himself stated that Titanic is ‘unsinkable subject’ and everyone should read about it and think about his/her behavior in such situation. I suppose that A Night to Remember can be recommended for different categories of people. Those, who are interested in history, would find there a lot of facts and real events; those, who are major in psychology, can analyze emotions and actions of participants; those, who want to know about technology, can focus on specifics of the ship itself. It is impressive that each person who reads it has different opinions. This illustrates the fact that A Night to Remember has many aspects and levels which enables everyone to choose their own vision of the story.
        The book about Titanic is an absolute page-turner. On the whole, the simple but remarkable and deep style of writing, presence of many life stories, historical context and author’s conclusions impressed me. The chronicle is worth reading because it makes everyone think, analyze and definitely will not leave the person indifferent. Due to this Lord’s plot was used as the basis for many other books about Titanic (‘The Long Night’, ‘Titanic: An Illustrated History’, ‘Remembering the Titanic’ etc.) and movies (the most famous one was directed by James Cameron).
        As shown above, A Night to Remember has influenced not only its readers, but made great impact on the development of world’s literature and cinematography.

Lord, Walter A Night to Remember. R&W Holt. First published in November 1955. 260 p. ISBN 0-03-027615-2

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