Let me begin by saying that I’ve read quite a lot of books and articles on Titanic. I’ve seen ‘the’ movie several times and watched various documentaries. I’m always on the lookout for something new or different. I liked that this book was presented from the perspective of a third-class steerage passenger.
We meet seventeen year old Maggie Murphy who is about to embark on her journey to America on Titanic. She doesn’t want to leave Ballysheen (her home village) and her boyfriend Seamus. But when her mother passes and her Aunt Kathleen comes from America to collect her, Maggie has no say in the matter. She and her aunt, along with twelve other folk from Ballysheen, decide to travel together. Maggie’s friend, the outspoken Peggy Marden, is ready to leave. She dreams of marrying a rich American man and living in a fancy mansion.
The story then switches us to Chicago in 1982 and we meet Grace Butler, a journalism student who sets aside her studies when her father passes so that she can stay home with her mother who is in a deep state of depression. After watching her great-granddaughter give so much of her self to her family, an 87 year-old Maggie decides to open up about that fateful voyage on Titanic. It is Maggie’s story that helps Grace get on with her own life, take up her studies once more and reunite with her own boyfriend whom she hasn’t seen in over two years.
Maggie’s story is moving, especially since her emotions embody those of her fellow travelers. Her realization that she should have stayed in Ballysheen with Seamus are reinforced as Titanic moves further away from Ireland. With her great-granddaughter’s help she rediscovers her small travel case that contains two parting gifts from Seamus as well as her journal. Happily Grace writes the story of Maggie’s journey on Titanic and it is printed in a prestigious newspaper. It is that article that reunites Maggie with people and artifacts that she thought she had lost long ago.
Although I liked this book overall there were too many similarities to the movie that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet: the narrator was an original Titanic survivor, an old woman; there were scenes that could have been lifted in their entirety from the movie, i.e., the lowering of the lifeboats; and I won’t give any spoilers but the ending of the story was quite similar to the end of the movie (other than the ship sinking). Because the story has become over-told I suppose that all of these scenes could overlap in the various re-tellings. I did like the detail behind the New Yorkers who waited for word of their loved ones and the hospital scenes with young Maggie.
If you are fascinated by the Titanic story, you’ll like this book. Worth reading for the differing point of view and the story of the folk from Ballysheen which is based on the true story of the Irish folk who made the journey.