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The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from…

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

by Allan Wolf

Other authors: Jon Klassen (Cover artist)

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1832464,645 (4.26)1
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    The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott (BookshelfMonstrosity)
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    Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell (Joles)
    Joles: Both books are written in verse and are written for a YA audience about historical events.

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This audiobook is a theatrical performance of historical fiction persona poems. Some poems are from the point of people who were on the Titanic, others are from the point of the rats and the iceberg itself.

This book started off confusing the hell out of me, but that was largely my own fault. It was an impulse grab in the audiobook section of the library. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Once I figured out that was I was hearing was performance poetry it all made a lot more sense.

I would give a spoiler warning here but come on, we all know how this book ends right? The ship sinks? Ok, glad we have that covered.

Wolf has done two things I'm not quite as keen on with this book. The first is the rat. Aside from being comical, he doesn't offer much for me. He is repetitive and if I had been reading the paper version I probably would have flicked past him. The other plot ties, like the girl's money bag and the "dragon hunters" keep the story moving much better than this obnoxious rodent.

The other thing I take issue with is the way Wolf personifies the iceberg. I understand the need for some sort of omniscient being to describe the ship hitting the iceberg, that I'm okay with even if it was a bit too faux-avant-garde for me. But the iceberg almost sounds sadistic at points, as though she was seeking out the ship. Hunting the hearts of the souls within it. The reader is given the opportunity to vilify her in a situation when the true villains were chance and circumstance and human error more than any chunk of ice.

I really appreciate that Wolf clarifies what is true in his narrative and what is the product of his imagination in his last chapter, revisiting where his research took him and what he stretched along the way.

I am glad I happened to find this book, and even more happy it was in audio form. This performance far outweighed reading it silently. Wolf writes to be heard and this work should be experienced. It will change the way you look at historical fiction and where that genre can be taken in today's literary world. I had a lovely and emotional time on Titanic's promenades. ( )
  KRaySaulis | Aug 13, 2014 |
I'm a Titanic junkie. I'm not sure I can consider myself a "Titaniac" (the equivalent of a "Trekkie/Trekker"), but all the same, I absorb most anything Titanic related.

This particular book is fascinating. It is a novel (written in verse), but a unique novel in that it is told by people who were on the ship. You read their thoughts and the things they were concerned with both before, during, and after the sinking. Husbands, parents, children, siblings, friends... very humanizing. And Wolf did a lot of research for this... virtually every character that "speaks" in this tale was a real person. No, it isn't 100% factual (compared to what is actually known) and obviously the actual thoughts and actions of each person are largely based on the author's character studies, but it sucks you in all the same.

I found myself both excitedly looking forward to getting to the actual sinking but also dreading it because I knew that some/many of these people that were sharing their lives with me would not survive.

Wolf also includes a lot of interesting info at the end... comments about the actual people his characters represented, statistics, notes, and an extensive bibliography. ( )
  RottenArsenal | Jul 28, 2014 |
What a powerful story and experience. I listened to this on audio, and the production was excellent. I would recommend, however, grabbing a copy of the physical book if you decide to listen to this; the poetry formations are very powerful too, especially toward the end. It's worth taking a look at to see how the author formatted the poems, which is a whole different experience. Highly recommended. ( )
  Tahleen | Feb 16, 2014 |
Written from the perspective of multiple narrators - passengers on the ill-fated Titanic - the Watch that Ends the Night is an ambitious and mostly successful imagining of the sinking. While it is fiction, most of the characters are historical, and the plot sticks closely to the recorded accounts of the 1912 disaster. An extensive set of notes at the end of the book untangles fact from interpretation and invention.

The sinking of the Titanic, with massive loss of life, is a quintessential modern disaster story. Wolf's version, though free of gore, emphasizes elements of horror: chapters open and close with comments from the undertaker working to recover and embalm the bodies of those who drowned; the iceberg speaks as a monster hungry to devour human life (sometimes this is convincing, sometimes slightly ridiculous). The climax of the plot is an arresting, two page spread representing what survivors recalled as the greatest moment of horror: the lifeboats circling the scrum of passengers freezing in the water, voices raised in a collective roar of pain and fear. There are many moments of humor and compassion scattered throughout the book, but these are often presented ironically - characters have no idea what is in store for them - and tend to deepen the ultimate sense of loss and grief.

For all the darkness, the book is rich and layered, and far from one-dimensional. Virtually every theme that has animated accounts of the disaster over the last century receives at least a nod in Wolf's story: the negligence of the White Star line in providing too few lifeboats; the hubris of those who thought the ship unsinkable; the differences in social class that applied both during the voyage and in determining who got a place in the lifeboats. Famous or unknown individuals make noble or craven choices. The legends are all here: the orchestra plays as the ship sinks; a mystery ship fails to send help; a nonexistent imposter (an artifact of a typo in one of the first newspaper accounts of the disaster) gets a major voice in the book. Finally, inevitably, Wolf's account makes room for a teen 'romance', though it's perhaps a bit of a stretch to call it that.

While the book is classified as juvenile fiction, a attentive reader of any age will likely carry some strong emotions for several days after finishing the book. I'm guessing the classification reflects the lack of sex, violence, or graphic bodily injury - perhaps also the amount of space given to kids' narrative voices. But the themes are serious, and the book doesn't coddle. Because Wolf incorporates so much of the history and folklore of the disaster, the book offers multiple launching points for discussions with students -- about immigration, inequality, technology, and ethics, among other themes. ( )
  bezoar44 | Sep 7, 2013 |
I purchased this audiobook for my library's collection because it won the 2012 Audie Award for Distinguished Achievement in Production, and was a nominee for the award for Multi-Voiced Performance. This audiobook is absolutely incredible, and I can't recommend it enough.

We're all familiar with the story of the Titanic, but poet Allan Wolf creates suspense by focusing on people and not so much the disaster itself. Subtitled "Voices from the Titanic," the book has 25 narrators, 20 of them being real passengers or crew on the Titanic. The other five include a ship's rat, the iceberg itself, and a (real) undertaker from the aftermath. The narrations of the latter proceed each of the nine sections of the story, a prelude and postlude, as well as the seven "watches" of a traditional ship duty system. These span the period from April 1, 1912, when the Titanic prepared to sail, through April 18, 1912, when the rescue ship Carpathia docked in New York City. The title of the book comes from a verse of the hymn, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," sung at a religious service on board the Titanic on the Sunday it struck the iceberg.

Laural Merlington and Angela Dawe voice the two female passengers, as well as the two-voice poems about the first-class and third-class promenade (some of the few rhyming verses in this work; most is free verse). Merlington also voices the Iceberg (the most "poetic" voice in the novel, written entirely in iambic pentameter). This means Michael Page, Phil Gigante, and Christopher Lane handle the other 22 male narrators among the three of them, including the ship's rat (which sometimes provided a bit of levity in an otherwise sad tale). These three narrators do a good job distinguishing their myriad characters. The fact that each character's part begins with his/her name and role helps.

I was riveted listening to this audiobook. I listen during my commute, and there were days I didn't want to stop to go into my office or my home at the end of the work day! I think it's because I wanted to know whether lesser-known characters lived or died.

It's hard to pick a favorite character. The rat sounds just like I'd imagine, the postmen (I didn't know the Titanic had postmen!) sort and shuffle and slot the mail.

Well-known Titanic victims and survivors are here, such as Captain E. J. Smith, millionaire John Jacob Astor, "unsinkable Molly" Margaret Brown ("the socialite,), shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, and White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay. Wolf presents another side to the stereotypes of these characters and makes them more human.

Even more interesting, though, were real characters I'd never heard of before: immigrants like Olaus Abelseth, Jamila Nicola-Yarred, and Frankie Goldsmith; con man George Brereton, second-class passenger Louis Hoffman (aka Michel Navratil, kidnapping his children), and various crew members - the baker, the postman, the musician, the boiler stoker, the lookout, the navigator, the junior officer, telegraphists - who provided much insight into the operations of the ship.

Different formats are used throughout the book. Abelseth's pieces are mostly in the form of letters to a girlfriend back in Norway. Most sections of Harold Bride, "the spark" - the junior wireless man on the Titanic - begin with a Morse code message (dots and dashes signaled in the audiobook, symbols used in the print version with translations provided at the end). Actual telegrams sent and received by the Titanic are included, as well as transcriptions of records of bodies and effects found afterwards.

In an author's note at the end of the book, Allen Wolf said his intention in writing this book "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. And that is why, after a century, the Titanic still fascinates." (p. 435)

By far, the most moving poem for me was a (mythical) telegram from the Titanic near the end (page 36), where a message repeating the Titanic's call letters (MGY) and distress calls (the new SOS and the then-standard CQD), "MGY MGY SOS CQD," slowly loses letters as the ship's power supply fluctuates during its sinking, eventually spelling out something else entirely.

I loved Wolf's descriptions of historical fiction in his author's note (page 435): "history is the birdcage, fiction is the bird," and the process of combining research and story:

"Writing a historical novel is like making soup. You spend a lot of time gathering ingredients, but eventually you've got to start cooking, even if you are missing one or two spices....But if you are a connoisseur of all things Titanic, please be kind to the cook. And just enjoy the soup."

Despite his stated regrets on not being able to explore all sources and apologies for errors, the book has an impressive end notes section, with 14 pages of notes on the characters, clarifying what is real and what is not (also read on the audiobook), four pages of "RMS Titanic Miscellany" (also read on the audiobook), and an extensive 10-page bibliography.

I can't say enough good about this book. Suffice to say I'm ordering the print version of The Watch That Ends the Night for my library as well, and I just bought Wolf's New Found Land, which uses the same format to tell the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Too bad that's not available as an audiobook; I bet it would be excellent.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[Also posted at Bookin' It. The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and interlibrary loan respectively.] ( )
3 vote riofriotex | Jul 7, 2013 |
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Klassen, JonCover artistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Recreates the 1912 sinking of the Titanic as observed by millionaire John Jacob Astor, a beautiful young Lebanese refugee finding first love, "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, Captain Smith, and others including the iceberg itself.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0763637033, Hardcover)

Arrogance and innocence, hubris and hope--twenty-four haunting voices of the Titanic tragedy, as well as the iceberg itself, are evoked in a stunning tour de force.

Millionaire John Jacob Astor hopes to bring home his pregnant teen bride with a minimum of media scandal. A beautiful Lebanese refugee, on her way to family in Florida, discovers the first stirrings of love. And an ancient iceberg glides south, anticipating its fateful encounter. The voices in this remarkable re-creation of the Titanic disaster span classes and stations, from Margaret ("the unsinkable Molly") Brown to the captain who went down with his ship; from the lookout and wireless men to a young boy in search of dragons and a gambler in search of marks. Slipping in telegraphs, undertaker's reports, and other records, poet Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power.

Extensive back matter includes:

Author's note
Morse code with messages to decipher
Titanic miscellany
Bibliography, articles, periodicals, government documents, discography

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:23 -0400)

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Recreates the 1912 sinking of the Titanic as observed by millionaire John Jacob Astor, a beautiful young Lebanese refugee finding first love, "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, Captain E.J. Smith, and others including the iceberg itself.

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