I finally finished The Magic Ship by Sandra Paretti. I picked this one up time and again, and it didn’t grab me, but this summer it finally did. Maybe reading pandemic style helped as this book is also about lives disrupted and somewhat "quarantined" by a world-wide event, World War I.
It is a tale of summer romances (clean) that emerge when a German liner takes refuge in Bar Harbor during the height of the summer “cottagers’” season, August 1914.
Don’t expect huge fireworks or a scandalous mystery. This is a nice easy-reading story about an unexpected event in the life of a small harbor town and the new and unexpected relationships that change people’s lives. It also tells a story from Maine history that I didn’t know about, that is of the German ship Kronprinzessin Cecilie holing up on Maine’s coast until the authorities of Lloyd (the North German shipping company that owned it), government officials, and ship officials can figure out what to do about the ship, its passengers, and its cargo (loads of gold!). The passengers are off-loaded (many to their disappointment at not completing their journey in England or Europe as expected) and given passage via train back to New York as is the cargo, but some passengers choose to stay in Bar Harbor, as well as the crew, and that is where the story gets interesting as the lives of the crew intersect with the lives of the summer residents. In the backdrop is the ship, always the ship. Some of the characters are based on real crew members of the Cecilie. The rest are likely fictionalized, but they are believable character portrayals of wealthy socialites of that time. You can read more about the real story of the Cecilie here, here, and here, and its service to the United States military!
I read this earlier in the summer, and then this week I read in Down East Magazine, published in its October issue, a story about another cruise ship that just this summer tied up in Eastport, Maine's harbor to quarantine. It was fascinating the way the townspeople were intrigued by the ship and its occupants and tried to connect with them from a distance (pier to deck). Unlike in the Magic Ship, the crew was not allowed to disembark. I had not heard about this ship coming to rest in Eastport’s deep fishing harbor, right along its newly built pier, for a month, while awaiting orders about its next "safe" voyage. The story by Jaed Coffin definitely caught my attention. It's worth a read.
Maine has a fascinating history of coastal exploits; sometimes it takes an old book to make us aware of them. Don’t disregard older books, there are treasures waiting to be mined.
Also of note is that Sandra Paretti was not a Maine author, or even American, but a German authoress who wrote historical fiction and whose books were very popular in their day. Also Sandra Paretti is not her real name. The author bio in my copy of The Magic Ship says her seven novels had been translated into 11 languages (from German) and that she was a “number one bestselling woman novelist.” This was published in 1979 and listed as $10.95. The end page has a pencil inscription of $12.50, so apparently on the second-hand market, its value went up.
While there is nothing truly magical about this book, and as it was written in the 1970s, it doesn’t have the same catchy themes and writing styles that contemporary authors and publishers use today, I thought it was an engaging read, especially because I am a sucker for old-style straight-forward real-time narratives (old school writing). Plus there's the fact that it is based on a historical event, right here in Maine in the summer.
The "magic" of reading this book is in catching the feel of a place and its people in a short moment in history, in an idyllic summer setting during the heady pre-World War days. In a word, it’s a little piece of historical summer magic.