Monday, July 21, 2014

A Review of 'The Watch That Ends The Night' by Allan Wolf (Audio Book)

"Arrogance and innocence, hubris and hope-- twenty-four haunting voices of the Titanic tragedy, as well as the iceberg itself, are evoked in a stunning tour de force.

Millionaire John Jacob Astor hopes to bring home his pregnant teen bride with a minimum of media scandal.  A beautiful Lebanese refugee, on her way to family in Florida, discovers the first stirring of love.  And an ancient iceberg glides south, anticipating its fateful encounter.  The voices in this remarkable re-creation of the Titanic disaster span classes and stations, from Margaret ('the unsinkable Molly') Brown to the captain who went down with his ship; from the lookout and wireless men to a young boy in search of dragons and a gambler in search of marks.  Slipping in telegraphs, undertaker's reports, and other records, poet Allan Wold offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power."

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book.  My gardening job has started up again, meaning that I have tons of time to listen to audio books during the day.  This one kept my mind busy for quite a while.

I loved that this book looked at more than just the passengers of the ship and more than just the first class passengers of the ship.  My main background for Titanic is the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as well as an extraordinary traveling exhibit that came to the Science Museum of Minnesota a handful of years back.  While I got way more background from the exhibit than I did the movie, I felt like I was missing a lot of the experiences that this book presented.  I liked that this book gave voice to the people who were working on Titanic-- the captain, the people who were sending out the CQD/SOS signals and communicating among the other ships at sea, the stokers in the boiler rooms, the people who sorted the mail, etc.  It was also good to hear from those in the second and third classes.  Some were escaping terrors in their home countries and had to leave while others were facing personal traumas and chose to leave.

I didn't like hearing from the rats or from the iceberg.  The voice of the rat was incredibly repetitive.  It was nice to break up some of the heavier parts that the passengers and workers talked about, but I don't feel that the rat really added anything vitally important to the story.  I absolutely hated to hear from the iceberg.  Allan Wolf writes the various mistakes that were made on board the Titanic (and sometimes these were common mistakes on other ships): the radio communication systems were shut off on other ships (not all, but some), the binoculars in the look-out post had been lost, the ship was going way too fast, the workers were ignoring warnings from other ships that they were heading into an area with tons of icebergs, and of course, there weren't enough lifeboats to rescue everyone on board the ship.  And yet as he gave the iceberg a voice, the iceberg became a hunter-- that it's sole intention was to hit Titanic.  It's taking the blame off of people and putting it on an object that doesn't control how it moves or how people react to it.  I think it's a cop out.  Titanic is a tragic incident, certainly, but it must be understood that some thought-processes on board were fatally flawed.  The number of deaths could have been prevented had more lifeboats been provided and if class separation weren't so vitally important to those on board (or at least those who ran the ship).  You can't blame a piece of ice for what happened.  What could it do?  It can't move out of the way, nor can it launch itself in front of ship seeking to destroy it.  This part of history is tragic because of the oversights of many, many people.  And that's why I hated to hear from the iceberg.

To return to something more positive about the book, I liked the little details that were included at the very end, after the story ended.  The number of the people on board, what the ship was carrying besides people (the car that's in the Titanic movie?  Yeah, that was really there), etc.  I also liked the level of detail.  One such details was the last meals that people in each class had (though they weren't aware that it was their last meal).  It reminded me of this thing on Buzzfeed where photographer Henry Hargreaves took pictures of the last meals of death-row prisoners.  That series of photos was haunting as the pictures of the food (or no food at all) accompanied the prisoner's name, age, home state, and crime(s).  It was a lot like Titanic.  A lot of people were prisoners on this ship and there was no way they could know that until the Titanic started to sink and they couldn't escape their levels and get to the life boats.

This is exclusive to the audio book, but I loved hearing Morse Code as it was punched out.  I also liked the rhythmic reading (sort, shuffleshuffle slot) of the mail room.  They were wonderful auditory details.  I'm kind of fan-girling over them, honestly.

This is a great book if you're very interested in the Titanic story.

I give 'The Watch That Ends The Night':
Thanks for Reading!


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