The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

What a beautiful novel in verse!!  If you or someone you knows is a historical fiction aficionado or a teen who loves this genre, put this book in their hands....

Question:  What sank the Titanic?  How many died?  Would it be hard or easy to imagine this disaster?
Well, thanks to James Cameron and the phrase, "I'm King of the World!"  I'm sure you can.  But then again, there are many sides to the story, and this novel takes on these many sides in a remarkable way.

Meet the first voice in this novel-in-verse.  His name is John Snow.  And he's the one that had to pick up the dead left after the Titanic sunk.  His tale told will make you think about the aftermath....

Then there's Frankie Goldsmith, only nine years old when he sailed.  He got to meet the captain and others, but he was on the lookout for dragons.  He just didn't know dragons could live in ice...

And there are other voices as well, from the iceberg itself, calmly waiting for its destined meeting with Titanic, to the rat who got a ride.  And there are familiar voices, such as John Jacob Astor, Captain Smith and Margaret Brown.  Whoever it is, the characters are all entangled with each other, sometimes bumping shoulders.  Their lives are separate at first, but become more intertwined the further the novel takes the reader.

480 pages

978-0763637033 Ages 14 and up

Book Pairing: Pair this titles with Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson (Contributed by Tricia Stohr-Hunt)

Recommended by Naomi Bates, Librarian, Texas, USA
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"...and here she is folks - the USS Titanic! She's lined up beside two hundred and fifty parkin'  meters and the Captain's gettin' done ready to split'cause he run outta dimes."
-- Jamie Brockett, "The Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic" (1969)

"Wednesday, April 10, 1912
E.J. Smith  The Captain

...And with a decisive burst of steam-driven  power, this great floating city set out with its cargo of human hearts.  She was the largest moving thing on the planet ever made by man.  Every porthole was ablaze with yellow light as the sun gave way to dusk and then darkness."

"Sunday, April 21, 1912
John Snow  The Undertaker

...But I am the undertaker, and I am an old hand at death.  Men who walk among the dead as I do must cultivate a certain emotional remove.  Indifference.  An indifference to death.  Indifference.  An indifference to the dead.

I finish my cup and climb to the sun deck.  I inhale the Atlantic's cold April air, ready for whatever the coming day might bring.  A half mile off the Mackay-Bennett's bow a flock of seagulls floats on the swells.  Seagulls?  So many miles from land?

'Lower away,' Captain Larnder commands.  Ropes creak through the pulleys as the first small  boat descends in its davits, carrying a crew of five.

As the small cutter reaches the water, I see a half dozen bodies.  They look strange, as if standing in the shallows of a  pond, head and shoulders above the surface, buoyed ingeniously by their bulky life vests of bright white canvas and cork.  The corpses spin slowly, almost gracefully.  Mouth agape, each earnest face turns upward, staring at nothing, as if the dead were alive, but blind -- heads cocked slightly to better hear what rowdy living men intrude upon this silent, solemn interlude.

Captain Larnder whispers respectfully, 'And so we  begin.'

I turn again to the far-off flock of gulls -- smudges of white floating on the green waves -- and I admit to myself what I knew at the first sight of  them:

Those are no seagulls at all.  Those are bodies.

More bodies.  Each one waiting in a bright white vest.  My God.  My God.  My God.  Bodies scattered for miles, in every direction.  Bodies as far as my indifferent eyes can see."

What happened over those days between the departure and the sinking?  What was it like on that dark, moonless night, immersed in freezing ocean water?

We're approaching the hundredth anniversary of the collision between the Titanic and an iceberg that resulted in the loss of 1,500 lives.  Being that I am among those who have never seen the famed 1997 movie, I knew little more about the ship than I'd learned from the Jamie Brockett yarn.

And so I found myself hungrily cruising through the 460 pages of this action-, romance-, deceit-, and tragedy-filled historical verse novel in order to learn what it was like to be aboard the Titanic, to face the terror of the sinking, and to discover which of these characters would live and which would die.

THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT is told in one- and two- page pieces from the points of view of more than two-dozen voices.  The entire story spans 20 days.  The net result is pretty frenetic.  If  everyone is asleep in first class, you've still got the baker and the rat and other crew members awake and doing their thing elsewhere on the ship.  It  just keeps going, going, going, as that 882 foot-long, 175 foot-tall vessel  heads toward its meeting with the ice.  Meanwhile, the iceberg --  which provides one of the story's multitude of voices -- is ready and waiting.

"It was midnight on the sea, The band was playing 'Nearer My God to Thee Fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well"
-- Jamie Brockett

Author-poet Allan Wolf completed a mind-blowing amount of  research in seeking to determine what really happened over those three weeks so  that he could set his stories firmly within historic reality (to the extent that  it is known, and with the reality that what is known continues to evolve).  Within this framework of history we meet so many memorable characters such as Jamila Nicola-Yarred, the Lebanese refugee girl who, with her brother, is heading for a life in America.  They are without their father, who didn't pass the pre-board health check due to an eye infection.  And Margaret Brown, the socialite who became the subject of the  musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."  And Jock Hume, who is a violinist in the ship's band.  And Louis Hoffman, who is traveling under an assumed name after kidnapping his two sons and taking them on board.  And George  Brereton, a gambler and con man also traveling under an assumed name.  And Thomas Andrews, the shipbuilder.  And John Jacob Astor IV, reputedly the richest man in America, who is returning home after having fled the paparazzi and buzz in America in the wake of his marrying an 18 year-old. And what I love is that, amidst the wealth of backmatter, we learn the details about each of these characters' real lives and what happened  to those who survived and went on to have a future.

Action and romance and deceit and death and true stories to boot.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, Librarian, California, USA

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