Thursday, June 07, 2012

2012 Book 18: The Girl Who Came Home

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor is a novel about the tragic sinking of the Titanic. Specifically it is a fictionalized account of 14 passengers traveling from a rural village in Ireland to start a new life in America. In real life, there were 14 passengers from a village in Ireland that accounted for the greatest loss of life from one place.

This novel follows the trend of many current novels by swapping back and forth between the past and present. This account is told through the voice of one of two survivors from Ireland, 17-year old Maggie Murphy. As Maggie comes to the end of her life, she finally shares her tragic experience with her great granddaughter, Grace. This telling includes a love story that has a happy ending but Maggie's life, though happy and full of love, has been a difficult one in that she has had to bear the burden as to why she survived when so many of her loved ones perished.

This book does an excellent job of describing the Titanic and what it must have felt like to be a passenger, especially one from 3rd class who managed to survive.

As seems to be the case in most past-present books I read, I enjoyed the story of Maggie's experience more than I enjoyed the story of Grace as she deals with her current life. I guess I am a bigger fan of historical novels than the fluff that seems to be a part of the current-day characters and their story lines.

Excerpts from the book:
It was an impossible situation they faced, their destinies shaped, not by their own decisions, but by nature and economics and politics and things they were too young to even understand.
‘I was sailing to America to start a new life, and in a funny way, that was the only way I could carry on after Titanic; with a new life. The girl who had left Ireland was gone to the bottom of the ocean with the rest of them. I had to start over. Start again, and that meant never talking about Titanic again. Not with my own family and not with those we had left in Ireland.’ 
...he felt oddly moved by them and their story, by the notion that these young girls, and the people travelling with them, had left their homes and the land of their birth to take their chances in a distant and unfamiliar land. 
Titanic seemed to do that to people, inspire them, astound them, draw them together and connect them in a shared sense of awe at the magnitude and splendour of this spectacle which had been derived from riveted steel plates. Because, after all, that is all this was; a ship held together with steel rivets. And yet, it was much more than that. It was a ship which would transport some of its passengers towards a life of prosperity and others simply away from a life of poverty. 
Death makes people react in strange ways and you certainly wouldn’t be the first to block somebody out of your life because of your grief and I doubt you’ll be the last.
She had admired all of these small details over the last few days – now it seemed ridiculous that a ship which was sinking with thousands of people on board still looked so neat and tidy. 
She watched with heart-wrenching helplessness as several women climbed back out of their lifeboats, unable, in the final moment, to leave without their husbands, fathers and brothers. 
Amid the perfect melody from the violinists who were still playing on the upper decks, she heard, with chilling clarity, the terrifying orchestra of a thousand people dying; heard the haunting shouts and screams of their terrified voices.
‘as terrible as Titanic was, as the years passed, people stopped talking about it. You see, we had the wars then and people started talking about them instead, and then Armstrong went to the moon and Kennedy was shot and all kinds of things happened which were more important than a ship sinking in the Atlantic Ocean.’
People move on, history moves on and there will, sadly, always be something more terrible waiting around the corner.’ 
‘I’ve lived a very happy life because of Titanic. Life is fragile Grace – it is no more than a petal of cherry blossom; thriving and in full bloom one minute and blown to the ground by a sudden gust of wind the next. We shouldn’t take our life for granted and we should do whatever we can to make ourselves happy.’
‘Never leave yourself open to regret Grace. We can only make a decision when we know the choices we are faced with. If we shy away, turn our backs and hide, we will simply never know. And that is when you end up old and wondering and regretting. Live a life of hope. Don’t live a life of regret.’

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