Books

Book Review: ‘The Stranger in the Lifeboat’: A Feel-Good Read Laced With Grace

TIMEDecember 8, 2021

The Grand Idea: A voyage on the Galaxy, a private yacht, is a billionaire’s brainchild to bring together brilliant minds to change the world.

Now, 10 desperate souls are adrift in a lifeboat somewhere off the coast of West Africa. The yacht they had been on has sunk. Sharks are spotted along an endless horizon. It’s been three days and no rescue teams are looking for them. They are alone, frightened, and fatigued. Their influence and wealth mean little when they are faced with brute survival.

Then a young man appears floating in the waves. He is pulled in, pristine and unmarked. This new member claims to be God.

For some, their despair turns to cruel disbelief. For others, this divine intervention is an answer to their prayers.

The Stranger in the Lifeboat Book Review-cover
Mitch Albom’s November 2021 release: “The Stranger in the Lifeboat.”

A Compelling Mystery

Finding spiritual meaning in life is a driving theme for author Mitch Albom, who has penned such novels as “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven,” and “The First Phone Call From Heaven.”

In “The Stranger in the Lifeboat,” which is an overall quick read broken into crisp, fast-paced chapters, Albom immediately takes his readers onboard this buoyant orange rubber boat, sitting among the anxious survivors and perhaps with the Lord himself.

It’s hard not to feel like you’re swaying to the sea’s rhythm as you read about each passenger’s fate narrated by Benji, a lonely young man with a penchant for journaling. His notebook is discovered, tucked neatly in a waterproof pouch, a year later when the empty lifeboat washes up on the island of Montserrat. Now it’s up to the chief inspector, Jarty LeFleur, to piece together the puzzle of what happened.

There are more questions than answers. What happened to cause the Galaxy to sink? Was there foul play involved? Were there any survivors? And who was this young man pulled from the sea?

LeFleur’s detective skills are haunted by his own demons, adding another layer to the complexity of the characters. Readers will no doubt have empathy for all but sympathize more with some than others. It’s not a spoiler to say that the sea swallows many of them.

One of the most compelling is a young girl named Alice. Imagine a little girl without any family, who remains silent for most of the novel. The billionaire yacht owner is onboard as well as a Haitian cook and a matronly Indian woman. There’s also a tall Brit and a resourceful woman swimmer.

The main protagonist is Benji, the narrator, who pens his story to the love of his life, Annabelle, in hopes that she will read his last written words and remember him.

Spiritual Comfort

When the man calling himself the Lord speaks, his words are often beguiling but always comforting. He claims that he will save them all if they truly believe in him. This is easier said than done as each shipwrecked passenger is forced to examine his or her faith amid terrifying circumstances.

For those of you on the cynical side, you may find the plot implausible and the situation riddled with logistical impossibilities. The different personalities, while interesting, are shallow with weak character development. Perhaps the Lord’s answers are a bit too saccharine.

But I suspect that for most of you there is sufficient sacred food for thought. Albom’s spiritual wisdom is woven masterfully in this thriller-like read that will leave you uplifted, inspired, and hopeful.

As we enter particularly this Christmas season, we could all use a feel-good book laced with grace.

There’s a twist at the end of “The Stranger in the Lifeboat,” the merging of two reassuring and redemptive stories that cradle the psyche and soothe the soul.

Oftentimes, prayers are answered but in unexpected ways.

‘The Stranger in the Lifeboat’
Mitch Albom
Harper Collins Publishers, November 2021
Hardcover: 288 pages

Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four, and she resides in Warrenton, Va. Anita can be reached at anitajustwrite@gmail.com