Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Remember the Lusitania

Remember the Lusitania

Diana Preston
For ages 8 to 12
Walker Books for Young Readers, 2003   ISBN: 978-0802788467

It was a time of great change, one when great advances were being made. It was also a time filled with uncertainty; there was a war burning its way through Europe, a war which, as yet, the United States had no real part in. As passengers boarded the famous ocean liner, the Lusitania, there were whispers of a possible danger that could threaten the great ship. With German U-boats (submarines that could go anywhere) patrolling the seas around England there was the concern that the liner might be attacked. Some people even decided to change their plans and did cross the Atlantic at that time. What really sparked this reaction was a notification in the paper which was posted by the "Imperial German Embassy" in Washington DC, and which warned all travelers "intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage" to remember that "a state of war exists between Germany and her allies." What did this message mean, and how serious was it? No one seemed to have the answers to these questions.

It was therefore, with an slightly uneasy feeling on board, that that Lusitania set sail from New York on May 1 1915. All seemed to be going well however, and the passengers began to settle in, get to know another, and develop friendships.

In this thoughtful and extremely well-researched book, the author 'introduces' us to several groups of people: families, children, adults, who were traveling across the Atlantic for all kinds of reasons. We follow these people through the journey and are with them when disaster strikes. We are also with those ones who survived, with them when they arrived in Ireland and when they set about the business of trying to pull their lives together. We are privileged enough to get to know these people in some small way, and to share their ordeal. In their own ways, they were all remarkable, special, and a pleasure to 'meet.'

In addition to 'traveling' on the Lusitania, the reader also gets to see the other side of the story. We get to meet Captain Walther Schwieger, in charge of U-20, a U-boat which had great success in the waters around England and Ireland, sinking ship after ship in the days before U-20 discovered the Lusitania. We get to see that the captain and his men were not monsters; they did their best to get the people on the ships they sank off their vessels before the torpedoes were let loose to do their worst. These were men who were doing their job, a distasteful job which they felt to be their duty. There are many such jobs in times of war.

The story of what occurred on Lusitania on May 7th 1915 is not an easy one to read. There was great suffering, fear, and tragedy. Some of the passengers lost all sense of what is right and wrong, becoming completely engrossed in their own survival at the expense of others. Then there were the men and women who were extremely brave, and who did their best to help their fellow passengers. Included amongst these people was Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in America who could have easily found his way into one of the rescue boats if he had felt so inclined. Instead he chose to help to load the life boats with children, and though he was unable to swim himself, he gave his life jacket to a woman who did not have one. Alfred Vanderbilt did not survive the tragedy.

Filled with illustrations, photographs, and maps, we are given to real feel for what it must have been like to live in those times and to experience war at close hand. This book is a wonderful tribute to those who sailed on the Lusitania on her last voyage. It serves as a fitting memorial for those who did not survive, and it shows us how terrible the repercussions of war can be.