For the month of November, all chapters of the Girly Book Club are reading On a Cold Dark Sea by Elizabeth Blackwell. Here’s our review:

April 15, 1912.  Lifeboat 21 saves a mere 12 lives instead of the 65 it was built to hold. This is not just another tale of the Titanic’s voyage but an exploration of the aftermath left in its wake. Three women, each with her own secrets, rowed to rescue that night amid the wails of other passengers freezing in the arctic waters. On a Cold Dark Sea (Lake Union) by Elizabeth Blackwell takes us into their lives before and after the tragedy and examines what it means to be a lucky survivor.

Charlotte Digby is a liar and a thief, and she likes it that way. Until she met Reggie Evers, she lived a life of boredom on the border of respectability. But Reggie was a con-man extraordinaire and with him, Charlotte learned to steal from even the wealthiest in London. When Reggie sails to America to flee a scandal, Charlotte is thrilled to go with him, the man she loves. But Reg’s surprise upon boarding the Titanic changes everything.

Esme Sullivan is a Philadelphia socialite looking for love, or at least a good match for a husband. After all, they had raised her to be a wife. Marrying the older Hiram Harper will give her financial security and social status, and stability to her father’s failing business. But what about passion? Although Esme tries to be a good wife, her husband’s indifference to almost everything thrusts her into the arms of young and handsome Charlie Van Hausen—rich and lively and available for romance.

Anna Halversson, a dutiful Swedish farm girl, has devoted her life to her parents’ farm and to hired-hand Josef Andersson. When Josef moves to America, she prays he will one day ask for her hand in marriage, but the letter her father receives from Josef months later shatters her dreams. Nevertheless, she agrees to accompany Josef’s brother to America, but the journey will change her life forever.

All three women suffer through the Titanic’s sinking on Lifeboat 21, forever haunted by the unanswered cries for help from the cold water.

Fast-forward 20 years:

Charlotte is now a journalist for The London Record, reporting on the scandals of society’s elite. Life as a newspaper reporter is like life as a thief—it is all novelty. But she still misses Reggie Evers. Her anger from his betrayal and her guilt over not helping Reggie’s lover escape the sinking still plague her.

Esme is a rich socialite.  The entire country had hailed her fairy-tale marriage to Charlie as one of the few happy stories to come from the Titanic’s tragedy. How were they to know they were doomed? And Esme’s guilt from her infidelity to Hiram still burdens her after 20 years.

Anna is a farmwife and mother in Minnesota, happy except for living with the knowledge of what she didn’t do when the ship sank, and her selfish thoughts.

Charlotte’s assignment to cover the death of one of the Titanic survivors results in her contact with Esme and Anna. Each small decision made the night of the Titanic tragedy had been magnified in their lives. Will they be able to make amends for their actions and the guilt that has plagued them since?

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Elizabeth Blackwell uses historical records and the transcript of the U.S. and British inquiries to reflect the cultural context of the Titanic’s sinking—the effect that social class, ethnic prejudices, and technology had on events. She deftly captures the universal outrage sparked after first-class men were saved while third-class women and children drowned. Blackwell poignantly describes the cacophony of wails from the sea as hundreds die in the freezing water, and she skillfully explores the battle between survival and morality as choices are made. Reading the chilling accounts, one can imagine the horror—wet and freezing in a lifeboat, and making life or death decisions that will haunt you forever. A chillingly good read.