Book Review: Surviving Savannah

23 Aug

My book club always likes a book set in our home state. Add some history and well-placed landmarks we can visualize, and we are hooked. We discussed Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan this month — a unanimous thumbs up!

It was called “The Titanic of the South.” The luxury steamship sank in 1838 with Savannah’s elite on board; through time, their fates were forgotten–until the wreck was found, and now their story is finally being told in this breathtaking novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

When Savannah history professor Everly Winthrop is asked to guest-curate a new museum collection focusing on artifacts recovered from the steamship Pulaski, she’s shocked. The ship sank after a boiler explosion in 1838, and the wreckage was just discovered, 180 years later. Everly can’t resist the opportunity to try to solve some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the devastating night of its sinking.

Everly’s research leads her to the astounding history of a family of eleven who boarded the Pulaski together, and the extraordinary stories of two women from this family: a known survivor, Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who was never found, along with her child. These aristocratic women were part of Savannah’s society, but when the ship exploded, each was faced with difficult and heartbreaking decisions. This is a moving and powerful exploration of what women will do to endure in the face of tragedy, the role fate plays, and the myriad ways we survive the surviving.

Patti Callahan (who also writes as Patti Callahan Henry) is a New York Times bestselling author. Patti was a finalist in the Townsend Prize for Fiction, has been an Indie Next Pick, twice an OKRA pick, and a multiple nominee for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Novel of the Year. Her work has also been included in short story collections, anthologies, magazines, and blogs. Patti attended Auburn University for her undergraduate work and Georgia State University for her graduate degree. Once a Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist, she now writes full time. The mother of three children, she lives in both Mountain Brook, Alabama, and Bluffton, South Carolina, with her husband. 

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR: website | facebook | twitter | instagram

My Impressions:

Surviving Savannah is a great novel for fans of the dual timeline genre. With 3 points of view — modern day Everly and 1830s Augusta and Lilly, it portrays a number of ways people survive — physically and emotionally. The plot surrounds the historic sinking of the Pulaski, a steamship that boasted the latest technology (for 1838) and safety. Often called the Titanic of the South, you can guess the outcome of its voyage. With meticulous research, the novel is a great representation of the South before the Civil War. Callahan based many of the main characters on actual passengers of the fated ship, as well as including those who really did perish or survive. The modern day story assists in bringing history to life, as well as examining the many traumas people experience and the ways to cope (or not as the case may be). My book club really enjoyed this book. We think both the modern and historic story lines were well written. But we have differing favorite characters — we split between Augusta and Lilly. Sorry, Everly, but her story could not compete against the two women who heroically survived what life brought to them. That’s not to say that we didn’t like Everly. Her character was necessary to find out more about the Pulaski and those who were aboard on the night it sank. Her story was also a good counterpoint to the women of the past.

Our book club discovered there was much to talk about — life in the 1800s, historic research and preservation, even maritime law 😉 . We definitely recommend Surviving Savannah. It would be a good choice for your book club as well.


Audience: adults.

(I purchased this book from Amazon. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

%d bloggers like this: