“Beginnings and endings are earthly ideas. I go on. And because I go on, you go on with me. Feeling loss is part of why you are on Earth. Through it, you appreciate the brief gift of human existence, and you learn to cherish the world I created for you. But the human form is not permanent. It was never meant to be. That gift belongs to the soul.”– Mitch Albom, “The Stranger in the Lifeboat”
At just 224 pages, The Stranger in the Lifeboat by Mitch Albom is a fast read. This is my first book to read by this author, and I’m hooked. I’ll definitely be going back through his works to discover what I’ve missed.
The author wrote this book after the death of his daughter, adopted from Haiti, at a time in his life when his faith was under duress and in danger of collapsing under the weight of his grief. This work is as much a novel for us to read and grapple with as it was a catharsis for the author’s own questioning and grief.
Our story opens on a lifeboat. Nine people have been adrift in the ocean for three days after their yacht exploded. Eight were somehow rich, famous, or wildly successful. The ninth, one of our narrators, Benji, worked on the boat. On the third day after the cataclysmic explosion, they pull a man from the sea. He claims that he is “the Lord” and explains that he can save them only if they all believe in him. What if, after we cried out for divine intervention, the Lord actually came to us? Would we recognize him? Would we believe? Would we allow him to help us?
A year after the explosion at sea, a raft washes up on the shore of Monserrat and the island’s chief inspector discovers Benji’s notebook and secrets it away, so that he will be allowed to read it in its entirety. He knows it’s wrong to hide the last words of the survivors of the explosion, but he’s searching for answers to the same questions that plagued those on the boat.
Be warned: there are a lot of characters in this short story. You won’t get to know them well. You may get them mixed up. You won’t remember their names half way through to book, much less at the end. It’s okay. That’s a part of the point. Tragedy hits in this book page after page after page. There are too many sad events and harsh scenes to keep track. Large parts of this book take place a year after the sinking of the Galaxy. It’s okay to float adrift through parts of this story. This is a story to be felt more than to be reasoned through.
I was left a bit confused at the end. It was at this point that I did need to reason through a few things. I have my theories about the ending, which I can’t give without major spoilers. How you view the ending changes how you view the entire story. I like that there is more than one way to read this and how you choose to take it depends largely on what you believe or want to believe about life, death, miracles, and atonement.
“Maybe laughter after someone dies is the way we tell ourselves that they are still alive in some way. Or that we are.”– Mitch Albom, “The Stranger in the Lifeboat”
- immediately immersive plot
- thought provoking questions that will linger with you if you let them
- great for a book group discussion or buddy read
- overwhelming number of characters, they could have been condensed or more thoroughly explored
- I’m left uncertain as to why Benji believed some of the things about the accident that he did. “Trauma” doesn’t really explain everything.
“When someone passes, Benjamin, people always ask, ‘Why did God take them?’ A better question would be ‘Why did God give them to us?’ What did we do to deserve their love, their joy, the sweet moments we shared?”– Mitch Albom, “The Stranger in the Lifeboat”
- Those looking for a book to walk with them as they question their faith or grapple with grief
- Those seeking a thought provoking read that fits easily within a Christian worldview
- Fans of mystery with a slight mystical element
Books to Read if You Loved The Stranger in the Lifeboat:
- The Shack
- The Book of Longings
Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)
- Does a book have to wrap up all the lose ends to be a satisfying experience?
- Why does the character of “the Lord” not rescue the survivors in the way that they expect? Does that strengthen or weaken the story?