We’ve had rain, rain and more rain this past week, which I thought was going to continue into today, so I’m thrilled to see the sun this morning as I sit with my delicious cup of chai and a slice of homemade date bread and think about the book I nearly finished reading last week.
Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania just off the coast of Ireland, killing more than a thousand passengers and crew members and significantly influencing the US in their decision to enter into WWI. I can’t recall specifically whether I realized this when I made up the book club schedule near the end of last year, but surely it was not mere coincidence that we discussed Dead Wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson yesterday. This detailed, thoroughly researched book tells the story of the days leading up to, during and following the sinking of this huge British passenger liner by a German u-boat on May 7th, 1915, and relates information about the ship, war strategies, and the individuals involved in making decisions about these strategies. Larson also provides information about just some of the many passengers, intimate details about their lives and why they were on the ship, despite warnings in the newspaper just before the ship sailed, details both interesting and mundane, about passengers who were notable and those whose lives were seemingly unimportant, treating each person with dignity and respect, from the member of the Vanderbilt family to the young American man who was going to England to propose to his fiancé. My discussion group was small yesterday, just three others and me, but we had a lively discussion nonetheless. Two of us had not quite finished the book (I ran a Book Fair at one of my schools last week, so was busier than usual and didn’t have as much time to read as I normally would), but we’d both read to the point when the ship sank and people were struggling to survive. We all agreed that Larson’s book was well-written and read like a novel, but that it was a bit difficult to get into at the beginning. As he was writing about so many individuals, we struggled to keep track of everyone, unaware that he would do such an excellent job of reminding us who everyone was again later in the book. And he managed to put a human face on the tragedy, reminding us of the tragedies that have affected so many throughout history, that affect everyone, regardless of status or wealth or social standing. One of my book club members had recently read another book by Larson, In the Garden of Beasts, which she said was also excellent, so she was quite eager to read this one. We talked about the magnitude of war, and wondered, along with the author, whether this disaster was allowed to happen to push America to join the war. We enjoyed reading about the various individuals who were on the ship, and we all agreed that the captain of the ship, Captain Turner, was a good man who did everything he possibly could to get his passengers safely to their destination, and that no fault could be placed on him, considering the poor communication (or intentional miscommunication?) he received. We also felt that Kapitänleutnant Walther Schweiger, commander of U-20, the submarine that torpedoed the ship, was cold and calculating, and only concerned with filling his quota and going home, but we also realized that he was just doing his job, albeit in a cold, calculated manner that bent the rules of maritime law regarding civilian vessels. Overall, we felt that this was an excellent book, very well-researched and well-written, and I think we’re all going to try to get our hands on other books by this author.
That’s all for today. Get outside and enjoy the sunshine! (but remember to bundle up - sunshine can be deceiving).
Bye for now…