It’s that time of the year when many are looking for a good novel to enjoy over the summer (whether on our own patio or a vacation). As the pandemic eases in some places and surges in others, we come into this season a bit differently than the usual summer. We each have been changed by the pandemic because of what happened in our lives and how we responded to it.
As I eagerly looked forward to new book releases in March, I was delighted to discover that nearly every favorite novelist was releasing a new book. The one I just finished reading is Surviving Savannah by best-selling author, Patti Callahan, that some of you got to know better from her wonderful book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis. Little did I realize how this book fit so perfectly into this season we have all experienced because of the unexpected pandemic. In March of 2020 we were all going about our “normal” lives when life threw us a curve ball, a change in lifestyle, and potentially a fight for our lives. Maybe one thing it taught us is that is what life can be like. Surviving Savannah written skillfully by Patti Callahan gives each of her readers a chance to reflect on that again.
“The sudden and unforeseen changes in our lives usually come in the middle of what we think is a normal day.”Patti Callahan
This historical story invites the reader to come aboard the steamship, Pulaski, that sailed from Savannah, Georgia, on June 13, 1838, bound for Baltimore and only one night at sea. Those who boarded the ship were seeking to escape the sweltering heat, insects, and possible malaria of the hot summer ahead. They included passengers known as the “flowers of the South” who were well known in the city as well as some of the slaves who attended them whose names were never really noted. They expected a smooth sail and traveled with all the things they would want for the summer including their china, silver candlesticks, and more. But what we expect and hope for is not always what we get and after a brief overnight in Charleston, as the Pulaski heads north toward Baltimore disaster strikes.
These are the facts supported by the discovery of the wreckage of the ship while the author was researching the story to write this book. That discovery adds true and fascinating detail as she seeks to also tell the stories of those who boarded the ship that summer day in 1838. Using the ship’s manifest and what she learned about those who survived the tragic explosion on the ship and those who did not, Patti Callahan gives us an intimate sense of what it would have been like to be aboard the ship.
“I know this: we’re made of stories, legends and myths just as we are made of water, atoms, and flesh. Once you know it, you can’t unknow it; you can’t pretend that everything that happened before you were born doesn’t have something to do with who you are today. Still, everything can change in an instant, a flash, a blink of an eye. A story can shift completely with the screech of a car tire, the flash of fire or the words of someone you love.”Patti Callahan
Patti Callahan writes a dual-timeline novel about Everly Winthrop, a modern-day Savannah museum curator, who has suffered a great loss, along with two historical women who boarded the Pulaski with their families on that June 1838 morning. As Everly seeks to research the history of the Pulaski we come to know the depth of her own loss and how it pushes her to discover the losses of those on the Pulaski.
“We fight to live. I’ve done more research than you can imagine on the way people react to calamity. We are our truest selves when life and death walk hand in hand. When crisis comes, and tragedy explodes, our true character comes to the fore.”Patti Callahan
Each moment of our lives is precious and helps shape who we become a bit more. You will see that in Everly and the passengers you meet on the ship: Lamar, Augusta, Charles, Lilly, Priscilla, and more. You will see how each responds to the unexpected as well as learn what happens with those who live with the nightmare of that voyage.
“…anyone who is engaged in life at all is brave. It’s so much easier to stay in the dream, in the hallucination, in the wishing.”Patti Callahan
You won’t want to miss this insightful griping story and what it can show us about ourselves and how we respond to the unexpected things that can happen in a moment on a “normal” day. The story lines will pull you along while also nudging you to reflect as you consider putting yourself in the story of Everly’s loss as well as the lives of the passengers aboard the Pulaski. You will be faced with many choices and how you would handle what each character faces.
“Do we have a destiny? How do we survive surviving? What happens to us after we live through tragedy both great and small? Is there such a thing as fate? Who do we become and why? Can we ignore our past if we are ashamed of it?”Patti Callahan
What does Patti Callahan help us see in this incredible story?
“What do one-hundred-and eighty-year-old artifacts have to tell us about the lives of the passengers? So very much. They hint at what the passengers valued; how they lived their daily lives; what they took with them on the journey; what belongings mattered the most to them. Of course this all changed with the fiery explosion. And that is what I meant to portray: how the very things we value ultimately change when our lives are shattered and the course of our days is utterly altered.”Patti Callahan