Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Watch That Ends the Night

The Watch That Ends the Night
By: Allan Wolf
The Watch That Ends the Night
Arrogance and innocence, hubris and hope--twenty-four haunting voices of the Titanic tragedy, as well as the iceberg itself, are evoked in a stunning tour de force. Millionaire John Jacob Astor hopes to bring home his pregnant teen bride with a minimum of media scandal. A beautiful Lebanese refugee, on her way to family in Florida, discovers the first stirrings of love. And an ancient iceberg glides south, anticipating its fateful encounter. The voices in this remarkable re-creation of the Titanic disaster span classes and stations, from Margaret ("the unsinkable Molly") Brown to the captain who went down with his ship; from the lookout and wireless men to a young boy in search of dragons and a gambler in search of marks. Slipping in telegraphs, undertaker’s reports, and other records, poet Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power.

I put this book on hold at the library the minute I read the synopsis. Last year I read The Song of the Sparrow last year and adored it. Though that book is vastly different from this one, it was a historical fiction book told in verse. That was a new experience for me and I loved the combination of those two things. So when I heard that this was a book about the titanic told in verse, instantly I had to get my hands on this book.

This book did not disappoint. It is gorgeous, emotional, and poignant. It deals with these stories, these people with sensitivity. As Allan Wolf says in his Author's Note:

"My aim in writing The Watch That Ends the Night was not to present history. My aim was to present humanity. The people represented in this book lived and breathed and loved. They were as real as you or me. They could have been any one of us."

This book accomplished just that. I was fascinated with how he took documented people and facts and fictionalized bits of their stories. This was done so well and so thoroughly. He gave life to these people

I don't know what else to say about this book other than that it is beautiful and heartbreaking. I can't compare it to any other book I've read, but it hit me so hard. This book exhibits how we can study the past, learn from it, and feel for those who lived through it. These stories have purpose, intertwine, and show the humanity of everyone on that ship. A haunting depiction of one the world's greatest tragedies, yet there are moments of humor and love and faith and artistry. It shows the full spectrum of human emotions within the 440 pages of story.

One of my favorite parts of this book was the formatting. Almost every page switches perspective, with the name and title for the person. Each character was rich and full and genuine, even though we only really saw them for one page at a time. The characterization was perfect, focusing on smaller details that define the people (the engraved ring, the dragons, the bees). It got you into their mind quickly and succinctly, which is why this format worked so well.

Another one of my favorite parts were the sections written from the perspective of the ice. Those segments were full of so much foreboding. It made the glacier into a sinister entity, present as a symbol for fate and disaster. They were gorgeous and so haunting.

This is a book that will touch you to your core and haunt you past reading it. I know this book has changed me, empathy and compassion imbued in this book and looking complexly at history and humans. This gorgeous collection of human stories is more than worth reading.

And now I'm going to leave you with a hundred quotes because this book is gorgeous and you need the words inside your brain and heart.


"I am the ice. I see tides ebb and flow.
I've watched civilizations come and go,
give birth, destroy, restore, be gone, begin.
My blink of an eye is humankind's tortoise slow.
Today's now is tomorrow's way back when."

"I am the ice; I am of water made.
That's why it's now of water that I speak:
Watch how the water licks Titanic's hull.
Hear how the water makes her rivets creak.
See how, before her trip even begins,
the water is obsessed with getting in."

"Thank God Eleanor and I were both born poor
so the concept of fidelity was allowed to take root in us.
Marriage without struggle is like an unfired clay pot.
It is easily made, but it will not stand the test of time."

"The heart, the heart - that little living lump.
A stubborn bird, it never leaves its nest
behind the ribs within its human chest.
And therein lies the mystery to me:
What magic makes it start? I need to know.
And what sustains it once it starts to go?
...They keep the beat. The meter. Steady rocks.
Like clocks: they tick and tock to track the time.
And when two human lovers meet - they chime.
Within my frozen mass I cannot find
an equal to the heart of mankind.

"Man's fatal flaw is misplaced optimism:
through hubris, it refuses to understand
that chaos is the ruling law of Nature
while order's just a futile dream of man."

"It's silly, really, that a machine might instruct a man
in the finer points of the human heart."

"I move my dial a century into the future: the year is 2012.
Armies are still at war. The poor are still poor. The rich still rich.
Glaciers continue to shed mountains of ice into the oceans.
The world still tilts at twenty-three and one half degrees.
The entire human race stands idly by as the great ship lists.
I see it so clearly, how we are all of us on the Titanic's deck,
steaming happily toward destruction or stopped dead in the water-
content that human ingenuity will keep us afloat forever..."

"I may have made it safely to the Carpathia,
but I still don't feel safe. No woman is safe, truly.
So long as we are denied equal say. Equal votes.
Equal representation. Equal opportunities. Equal wages.
So let Mrs. Candee wears the latest fashion.
I'll do the same. (I don't want to be a man!)
But I'll keep my ugly life vest on
over top of my beaded Parisian gown.
And I'll wear it as a reminder
that we are not yet standing on solid grount.
And as I rock whatever boat I choose, I will ask for justice.
And I will not "ask pretty."

"When it comes to historical fiction, history is the birdcage; fiction is the bird. The included biographies will help somewhat to distinguish bird from cage."

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