three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
By: 
Joan Druett
user_rating: 
0

Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World

A-Island of the LostOn January 3, 1864, a storm hurled the schooner Grafton onto the rocks of Auckland Island, a remote speck of land 300 miles south of New Zealand. Led by their intrepid captain, the four-member crew worked together to survive. Three months later, 19 survivors from the shipwrecked Invercauld washed up 20 miles away. The two crews separated by treacherous terrain, the Grafton crew built a cabin from salvaged materials, brewed beer from native roots, and devised a small forge to make nails for a rescue boat, while the squabbling crew of the Invercauld couldn’t even keep a fire going. Violence, starvation, and exposure claimed the lives of 16 men from the Invercauld. By contrast, after a daring escape, the entire Grafton crew survived.
Algonquin. 284 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1565124081

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Based on the sailors’ own diaries and newspaper accounts of the time, this is a surprisingly gripping tale that will leave readers amazed at the resourcefulness of the Grafton crew and the ineptitude of the Invercauld sailors. … This is a not-so-subtle reminder, in the author’s own words, of how ‘conscientious leadership, resourceful technology, unstinting hard work and an outstanding spirit of camaraderie’ ultimately lead to success." Karen Algeo Krizman

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 4 of 5 Stars
"Survival stories from earlier ages remain favorite fare for reader escape between pages, as is underscored once again by this amazing saga by an award-winning New Zealand maritime historian. … Rarely are the two opposing sides of human nature captured in such stark and illuminating relief." John Marshall

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite the generic TNT-original-movie title, Druett’s well-researched account earns its place in any good collection of survival literature." Wook Kim

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"One quibble: At the end of the book, Druett explains her sourcing, but the book itself is devoid of footnotes. … But the power of the crews’ divergent stories overshadows those issues and propels the narrative like a trade wind." Scott Martelle

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Their divergent experiences provide a riveting study of the extremes of human nature and the effects of good (and bad) leadership. … Druett is an able and thorough guide to the minutiae of castaway life." Florence Williams

Critical Summary

The author of several works on nautical history and a maritime mystery series, Joan Druett is a knowledgeable, entertaining tour guide through the seafaring life of the 19th century and the hardships of "castaway life" (New York Times Book Review). Druett illustrates how each group coped with the hostile conditions and why their respective strategies (or lack thereof) succeeded or failed by allowing the details of each story to drive the narrative. Some critics found those details too graphic—particularly the descriptions of cannibalism and clubbing baby seals—but Druett’s straightforward, restrained writing style steers clear of sensationalism or melodrama. Based on survivors’ memoirs, interviews, and newspaper articles, Island of the Lost is an enthralling tale with a timeless message.

Supplemental Reading

See our definitive list of "101 Crackerjack Sea Books" by Dean King in our July/August 2006 issue.

In the Heart of the Sea The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex | Nathaniel Philbrick (2000): Award Star National Book Award for Nonfiction. In 1820, the Essex was sunk by a whale 2,000 miles off the coast of South America, leaving the crew of 20 to drift for 95 days without supplies in three small whaleboats. This harrowing tale inspired Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick.

Endurance:Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage | Alfred Lansing (1959): When Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice during a 1914 Antarctic expedition, Shackleton and his crew survived on drifting ice packs for five months until they were able to escape in a lifeboat.

Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls True Stories of Castaways and Other Survivors | Edward E. Leslie (1988): A painstakingly researched but highly readable chronicle of true stories of survival from the Renaissance to the present.