Surviving Savannah: Book summary and reviews of Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan

Surviving Savannah

by Patti Callahan

Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan X
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan
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About this book

Book Summary

It was called "The Titanic of the South." The luxury steamship sank in 1838 with Savannah's elite on board; through time, their fates were forgotten--until the wreck was found, and now their story is finally being told in this breathtaking novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

When Savannah history professor Everly Winthrop is asked to guest-curate a new museum collection focusing on artifacts recovered from the steamship Pulaski, she's shocked. The ship sank after a boiler explosion in 1838, and the wreckage was just discovered, 180 years later. Everly can't resist the opportunity to try to solve some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the devastating night of its sinking.

Everly's research leads her to the astounding history of a family of eleven who boarded the Pulaski together, and the extraordinary stories of two women from this family: a known survivor, Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who was never found, along with her child. These aristocratic women were part of Savannah's society, but when the ship exploded, each was faced with difficult and heartbreaking decisions. This is a moving and powerful exploration of what women will do to endure in the face of tragedy, the role fate plays, and the myriad ways we survive the surviving.

First published March 2021; paperback reprint April 2022

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Did you know about the sinking of the Pulaski before you read this book? Why do you think that stories like this get lost to time? What surprised you most when you learned about this shipwreck?
  2. The stories of the Pulaski sinking were part of Everly's childhood. Her grandfather told and retold the story—adding bits and pieces of mythology and lore. Do you have family stories that are part of your heritage that have changed over time?
  3. The Longstreet family (inspired by the true Gazaway Bugg Lamar family) boarded the ship all together. In hindsight, knowing the dangers of steamboat travel, should they have traveled separately? Were they taking unnecessary risks? Did you ever blame Lamar Longstreet (Gazaway Lamar)?
  4. Augusta ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Surviving Savannah:

"The idea that surviving brings everyone to a new and better place is a lie told by people who need the world to make sense." Do you agree with this?
I agree that it depends on the person - I don't believe it brings you to a "better" place but definitely a "different" place as the book certainly points out in terms of Charles. - joannev

Did you know about the sinking of the Pulaski before you read this book? Why do you think that stories like this get lost to time? What surprised you most when you learned about this shipwreck?
I did not know about the sinking of the Pulaski. It was surprising the number of prominent southern families that died in this disaster, yet it is not well known. It is also interesting that it referred to as the southern Titanic, even though this ... - scottishrose

Do you agree that Augusta and Lilly had no options? Did their social class play into this at all? How are things the same today, and how are they different?
Yes, kimk put it very well. Lily was able to escape but I think it wasn't easy for her. There were definitely limits then and still some today. There are also a lot of expectations for women and as Gabi says even today choices are limited based ... - ColoradoGirl

Do you believe in fate or is chance more a factor in tragedies such as those portrayed in the novel?
I don't believe in fate or that there's any divine plan for individual lives, so I guess that leaves random chance. I like to think karma is at work sometimes, too. - kimk

Everly blamed herself for Mora's death. How does guilt impact grief? Why do you think we blame ourselves when we really had no control?
I think guilt always plays a part in grieving. You have to choose how big a part it will be. You also have to be willing to forgive yourself/ask for forgiveness, so that you can move forward. Otherwise you get stuck reliving what can’t be ... - SKB

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Media Reviews

"Gripping....bringing to life a little-known shipwreck in meticulous detail. [An] engrossing, centuries-spanning tale." - Publishers Weekly

"Callahan tells a harrowing tale of survival and courage, fate and chance, bringing the actual tragedy of the Pulaski to vivid life." - Library Journal

"Both Augusta and Lilly are women of their times, dependent on their family, especially the males, but their struggles at sea after the boiler explosion, and amid the fear and heavy loss, reveal courage and a resilience to survive that elevates them and brings on newfound strength." - Historical Novels Review

"The stuff of which Oscar worthy movies are made, Surviving Savannah is a masterfully crafted and simply riveting read." - Midwest Book Review

"Fans of Christina Baker Kline and Kate Quinn will love this beautiful, richly detailed novel about a lost bit of American maritime history. In a seamless blending of fact and fiction, Patti Callahan has created an atmospheric, compelling story of survival, tragedy, the enduring power of myth and memory, and the moments that change one's life. - Kristin Hannah, #1 bestselling author of The Great Alone

"Hidden history rises from the watery depths in all its glittering glory but also in its intimate, human detail. Meticulously researched, beautifully written, underpinned by timeless themes of personal trauma and its aftereffects, Surviving Savannah is a journey readers and book clubs will treasure." - Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Friends

"Fiercely hopeful...Callahan's expertly-drawn characters are forced to discover how to live past tragedy, and what matters most in the aftermath. This is exactly the kind of story we need right now." - Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife

"[A] lush, meticulously researched deep-dive into the little-known story of a historic shipwreck....Surviving Savannah is a lyrical homage to this southern city and makes a real contribution to the historical record." - Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling author of America's First Daughter
"Through the interwoven tales of three courageous women, Surviving Savannah ​grips the reader in a spellbinding novel full of mystery, tragedy, sacrifice, and resilience....Superb." - Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday
"Patti Callahan masterfully weaves a little known historical tragedy, an enigmatic mystery, and a searing family saga into a mesmerizing tale that will captivate readers until the last page and beyond." - Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris

"[S]pellbinding....Beautifully written with a masterfully crafted plot, Surviving Savannah leaves the reader breathless and marveling at the manner in which the past and present interweave in ways we almost cannot imagine." - Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room

"[A] rich tale of friendship, heritage, forgiveness, redemption, and the thin, too-fragile line between life and death. How will we survive the surviving? one of her characters wonders, and it is a question that Callahan mines beautifully. If you're fascinated by the Titanic, meet your new favorite novel." - Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names

"The astonishing story of the 'Titanic of the South' is brought to vivid life...This tale of survival, love, and loss, as well as Callahan's epic portrayals of a trio of strong, passionate women, gripped me from the very first page. Simply masterful." - Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

"Riveting...a heartfelt exploration of the pain of survival amid incalculable loss, and a mesmerizing character study of three women...[A] memorable and profoundly moving novel that readers are destined to cherish." - Jennifer Robson, international bestselling author of The Gown

"[A] sweeping, captivating tale of a contemporary woman lost in a fog of grief who finds solace, and finally, redemption, as she uncovers the long-buried secrets of a nearly forgotten shipwreck—and the courageous women who survived to bear witness to history." - Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of Hello, Summer

"Atmospheric…Emotionally charged…Swimming in telling details. With Surviving Savannah, Patti Callahan has become the North Star of historical fiction." - Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author of The Summer of Lost and Found

This information about Surviving Savannah was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Vivian Harrington

Loved Surviving Savannah
From the first lines I was mesmerized. I love historical fiction, Savannah, the early 19th Century, tales of shipwrecks and miracles of survival, the alternating time frames, triumph over tragedy and loss. This story has it all. And Ms. Callahan tells it beautifully.

To discover that the Pulaski was a real steamship that sank and that some of the characters are loosely based on real people made it all the more intriguing. Now, I’m starting to research the real story based upon first person accounts. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Liz B

Great Historical Fiction
Surviving Savannah is a well-written novel weaving a present day presentation of a shipwreck and the historical events of the actual sinking of the ship, The author does a nice job of intertwining the two timelines and bringing in interesting family stories from the 1700s. Enjoyed it!


Surviving is key
A beautifully written tale alternating between the time of the shipwreck and the time of a museum exhibit being curated and opening about the wreck in the present day. There is loss being dealt with by the characters in past and present and there is the thrill of discovery as the artifacts and the facts of the wreck come up from the depths of the ocean. There is attention to the class distinctions in our country, as a house slave becomes the means of survival for her owner’s baby, and the researchers cannot identify her or other blacks by much more than first names on the manifest of the voyage. There is all of this and so much more. A strong, captivating historical novel.


What fun to do research for a sunken ship.

The Pulaski was finally found after sinking in 1838.

Everly Winthrop was given the task of finding what really happened to The Pulaski.

We also meet Lilly who was on the sunken luxury ship.

SURVIVING SAVANNAH takes us back and forth in time as we learn about Lilly Longstreet’s privileged life and then the terror of trying to save herself, her nursemaid, and her baby. Many wealthy families were on board.

We then move to present day as Everly does the research and deals with issues of her own.

Ms. Callahan included very interesting information from her amazing, thorough research along with her marvelous writing and story line.

The story line flowed well from one time period to the next.

The characters were well developed and ones you will cheer on and love.

I loved learning about Savannah and about this ship. I had never heard of this event.

SURVIVING SAVANNAH will pull you into the mystery of The Pulaski and have you wanting to know everything uncovered and everything about Savannah.

Historical fiction fans and fans of Savannah will enjoy this book.

A truly addictive read you won't want to put down. 5/5

This book was given to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Carolyn Leaman

Mystery, Love Story, Redemption
This book is about the sinking and discovery of the wooden steamship Pulaski and it's aftermath. This tragedy occurred in the 19th century when boats in Savannah were the fastest means of travel. The Pulaski was considered a state- of-the-art steamship and had only been in service a short time before the disaster

The protagonist in the story is Dr. Everly Winthrop a professor of history at Savannah College of Art and Design. She tells the story in the first person and leads off describing the accident through her grandfather who entertained her and her siblings by thorough descriptive oral stories,particularly the blowing up of the Pulaski's boiler and its ultimate sinking.

This story is filled with mystery, love, and redemptive events. It switches back and forth to the present day being told by Everly and the exploding, sinking and aftermath of those individuals who survived the catastrophe.

I fully recommend this book and my only complaint is the overuse of similes, particularly in the first few chapters.


A little slow to start and one of the early characters isn't important at all, which confused me. Otherwise, an average parallel historical/modern fiction.

...2 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Patti Callahan

Patti Callahan is a New York Times bestselling author and is the recipient of the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Writer of the Year. She is a frequent speaker at luncheons, book clubs, and women's groups.

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