Friday, April 13, 2012

Two Titanic Book Reviews - A Guest Post by Nicola

A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells' Story of Survival by Julie Hedgepeth Williams
Pages: 186 +index
Ages: 18+
First Published: Jan. 1, 2012
NewSouth Books
Genre: non-fiction, history, biography
Rating: 4/5

Publisher's Summary: "Of the families that boarded the unsinkable Titanic in 1912, only a fourth stayed together during the sinking and arrived safely in New York. Albert and Sylvia Caldwell and their 10-month-old son, Alden, were one of those rare Titanic families. Author Julie Williams draws on first-person accounts from her great-Uncle Albert and extensive research to tell the fascinating story of the young family who were saved by a combination of luck, pluck, Albert's outgoing nature, Sylvia's illness, and Alden's helplessness. Their detailed story of the short life of the Titanic and their lucky rescue aboard the ill-starred Lifeboat 13 has never been fully told in Titanic literature. A Rare Titanic Family includes a photo taken of them on deck an unusual surviving souvenir sent to them after the disaster. But the trip on the Titanic was only one part of a bigger nightmare for the Caldwells.

Albert and Sylvia, idealistic young Presbyterian missionaries from the American Midwest, had set out to Bangkok, Siam, on the very day of their wedding in 1909, eager to serve God and see the world. But things went awry. In the end, they fled Bangkok in a desperate journey around the world to save Sylvia's health. Fellow missionaries, however, believed that the couple had plotted to renege on their contract and contrive an excuse to go home early, at great financial loss to the church. The trip around the world thus developed into a grim game of cat and mouse, with the Caldwells as the prey. Not even the loss of the Titanic ended the hunt. A Rare Titanic Family follows the true-life plot twists in a biographical account of a family that survived the Titanic but could never escape the shadow the ship cast over them."

This is a fascinating story that read like a novel for me. My first time sitting down with the book I almost read halfway through. I've always enjoyed missionary stories and I found the first part of the book on Sylvia and Albert's early life and time spent in Siam just as interesting as the rest of the book which focuses on the Titanic sinking and the effect it had on their future lives. The author has a compelling storyteller's voice which is easy and addictive to read, making this an entertaining and unusual story.

Because of the author's personal involvement with Albert and this being her own family history there are times when one wonders at the veracity of some of the events presented, but the author does fully admit that in light of lack of proof and hearsay in certain circumstances she has had to make educated guesses at times. She does have extensive proof from research which is fully documented online for Titanic historians that shows her devotion to finding the facts behind this interesting family story. This is all to say that the book is completely believable in its research and facts but when the author pieces her logic together to make educated guesses, the reader may beg to differ.

However, I just loved Albert and Sylvia both and thank Ms. Williams for bringing their personal story to the public with all its controversial sidestories put out there for the world to ogle. So many books are about the ship itself and the facts of what happened that night that it is imperative to read a story like this that reminds us about the people that were on board those few days. We think of all those who perished but what of those who survived. This book let's readers know it wasn't all over for the survivors once they drove away from the dock. Men especially had a hard time simply because they had survived and babies later became the last living survivors, whom the media were always after for interviews and yet they remembered nothing. This book brings home the personal side of the Titanic sinking and through one family's very personal story the reader gets an inside look into the sinking and the aftermath that a "just the facts" book can never provide.

A riveting, fast, read profusely illustrated with family & contemporary photographs. A joy to read.

Women of the Titanic Disaster by Sylvia Caldwell. Foreword by Julie Hedgepeth Williams
Pages: 141 KB
Ages: 18+
First Published: 1912, (e-edition Dec. 14, 2011)
Historic Publisher: A.W. Themanson Publishing Co.
NewSouth Books
Genre: non-fiction, history, memoir
Rating: 3/5
Publisher's Summary: "Sylvia Caldwell was onboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912. As one of the disaster's survivors, she took it upon herself to write an account of what happened in the event's aftermath. Women of the Titanic Disaster details Sylvia Caldwell's journey immediately following the sinking of the Titanic, and it gives us a fresh perspective on this historic event. With a foreword by Julie Hedgepeth Williams, author of A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells' Story of Survival, a biography of Sylvia Caldwell and her family."

This tiny booklet is interesting because of its historical significance. If you are a completest in your Titanic readings then this will surely be of value to you. It really has no literary merit. Mrs. Caldwell's account is brief and concerns her time in the raft and onboard the rescue ship. She waxes poetic about the heroism of the women who survived saying it took much more bravery to carry on and live than it did to stay and go down with a husband. Of course, this is the English-speaking women as she sets aside the "foreign element" from the beginning. Mrs. Caldwell's account is melodramatic but is also historically engaging as it describes the sights and sounds from the raft and how the middle/upper class women fared after being rescued. One certainly wonders whether Mrs. Caldwell wrote her little booklet hoping to make some extra money for her family rather than from any sense of duty. Not that there's anything wrong with making money. Included is a foreword by the author of a non-fiction book on the Caldwell family, a relative, then a poem by "Beecher" followed by Mrs. Caldwell's account which includes both a picture of herself and one of her baby. Then comes a "Hymn for Survivors of the Titanic" by Hall Caine followed by the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee". Finally there is a brief "About the Author" which tells briefly about Sylvia Caldwell. All in all, I am thrilled this piece of history has been made available to the public and pleased to have read its contents.
Nicola Mansfield, host of the 100th Anniversary Titanic Reading Challenge.


  1. Thanks for sharing these, Nicola! I want to try both of them at some point.

  2. I love the sound of The Rare Titanic Family. The background info prior to the Titanic incident sounds vastly interesting. I will have to check this one out.