Surviving Savannah. Patti Callahan. 2021. [March] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: I was born in water. For all of my thirty-two years, my mom, Harriet Winthrop, had told the story over and over to anyone who’d listen. I could recite her words verbatim; I’d been told them since my memory began. A tale worth telling, she would say when I rolled my eyes as she launched into the story.
Premise/plot: Everly Winthrop, one of our heroines, is nervous but excited about the new exhibit she'll be curating at the museum. The Pulaski has just been found and its treasures are being recovered. She grew up hearing stories--bountiful stories--from her grandfather about this tragic shipwreck--the boiler on this steamship blew up. As she unravels the past--the shipwreck, its passengers, the stories as revealed both in artifacts and accounts (letters, diaries, articles, books, family trees, etc.)--she comes to peace (mostly) with her own past. She's no stranger to loss herself. Every day she questions: why did I survive?
Surviving Savannah has THREE heroines. Augusta Longstreet and Lilly Forsyth are our other two heroines--both passengers on the Pulaski. Augusta is traveling with her brother and his family. Lilly is traveling with her young daughter--a nursing infant--her abusive husband (boo, hiss) and Priscilla an enslaved nursemaid. The two women are friends.
My thoughts: Surviving Savannah is historical fiction with a splash of romance. A handful of the fictional characters are loosely based on historical figures. Loosely based. But mainly the characters are fictional. The Pulaski disaster was real enough, tragic enough. The story--even knowing that the characters are fictional--is heartbreaking.
The book celebrates friendship, family, STORIES, legacies, and finding meaning wherever however you can. It is very much a novel about horrifying grief, traumatic experiences, and answering the question NOW WHAT?
It is not a light, fluffy, insubstantial historical soap opera with costumes. It is DARK and substantive. It asks plenty of questions but doesn't answer those questions the same way for all the characters--if that makes sense.
I thought it was well-written.
The character I personally identified most with was Augusta. I loved, loved, loved this character. Her situation was HEARTBREAKING and TERRIFYING. And I felt every moment of her angst and pain.
I would say it's nearly clean--there's one very brief scene with the abusive husband that is NOT clean, but it's also not romanticized or meant to be enjoyed. The story is mainly too focused on life and death and the meaning of it all to focus on throwing in steamy scenes for the fun of it.
© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews