Darkness and Death: Truths from the Titanic and a Chilean Mine
Dear avid reader,
Looming darkness and death seem to be the common elements in the two nonfiction books I read this month. One was a young adult poetry book about the Titanic, the other an adult book about the 33 men buried in a Chilean Mine. Though the events take place a century apart and thousands of miles apart, they present many commonalities.
The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic a novel by Allan Wolf. A Claudia Lewis Award Winner, An American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection, A Booklist Editor's Choice, 2012 Audie Award Winner, 2013 YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten, and Junior Library Guild Selection.
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free a novel by Héctor Tobar. California Book Award Silver Medal for Nonfiction (2014).
Each book contains the story of a historical misfortune resulting in part, from a lack of adequate safety preparations. Each book uses numerous voices to produce the completed story. And both books bear tales we have some knowledge of; one ends in tragedy, and one ends in a miracle.
Allan Wolf author of The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic states in the Author's Note that
"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" (2011).
This display of human nature and the human condition was beautifully woven into the heart of each book. When faced with death, we are all equal there are no social class or work hierarchical distinctions, "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." ~ 1 Timothy 6:7
In The Watch That Ends the Night the poem "The First-Class and Third-Class Promenade," the reader is presented with a comparable and contrasting image of social classes. Throughout the book, the reader is also presented with information regarding the differences in treatment between the classes.
The most powerful poem of the novel, in my opinion, takes place during the Sixth Watch: Whiskers on the Light portion of the book and thus soon after the Titanic has sunk. The poem features a cluster of chilling phrases and words in the middle of the double page spread such as "god help us," "please," "bring back the boats," and "daddy will protect you." These words and phrases are surrounded with the words of the previous poem "The First-Class and Third-Class Promenade" from pg. 225-226. The Titanic has sunk, and members of both First and Third Class are together in the midst of confusion and freezing water, all people are facing the same fate. The class distinctions so prominent in the previous poems no longer matter.
Similarly, in Deep Down Dark almost immediately after the collapse, the worker hierarchy also collapses. The shift supervisor resigns his authority, and the Bolivian immigrant rookie becomes accepted as a "friend and brother" (2014).
"They're all dying together, and no human being, not even the Bolivian among them deserves this fate" (2014).
Death is one aspect of the human condition and human nature that we all share and all must face. This truth is paramount in both novels. Both books are exquisitely written, and both also depict crises of faith. Yet, Deep Down Dark, I feel, illustrates a strengthening of faith and the ability for faith to get a person through a seemingly impossible situation.
"Omar realizes that the improbable fact of their survival also carries a hint of the divine. To be alive in this hole, against all odds, speaks to Omar of the existence of a higher power with some sort of plan for these still-living men” (2014).
Again the writing in both novels is superb, and whether or not you enjoy historical novels, I recommended these books they profoundly represent human nature and the human condition. The books also present an opportunity to relate the similarities and differences in social issues, as well as, an opportunity to contemplate humanity and what connects all humankind.
Yours Truly, LeNae
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Tobar, Héctor. 2014. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free. New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Wolf, Allan. 2011. The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.