May has set sail on the ill-fated Titanic to start a new life in America with husband Joe and daughter Ellen. When the ship hits an iceberg, all three find themselves in the water. May somehow finds her way to a lifeboat but is distraught when she cannot locate her missing family. Against all of the odds, Captain Smith swims up to the lifeboat and places a wet bundle into it: a baby plucked from the water. Overjoyed to be reunited with her precious daughter, May feels that this was her reason to live. Together, they will survive despite the loss of Joe.
Celeste has been travelling first class on the Titanic after attending a funeral in her native England. She is in the same lifeboat as May and the two strike up a life-long bond based on their shared experience. Trapped in an abusive marriage, she despairs of finding a way out of her situation.
Angelo left his home in Italy to set up a new life for his family. His wife and daughter were travelling on the Titanic and he refuses to believe that they did not make it. His belief that his daughter is alive haunts him for most of his life but he can't shake the feeling that his beloved Alessia did not die in the tragedy.
Firstly, I'm not sure why the title is as it is. While Captain Smith's real daughter is mentioned a couple of times in the book, she has no real relevance to the plot. The baby placed in the lifeboat is no relation to him - he is supposed to have simply found her and got her to safety. Which brings me onto my second minor gripe. The basic plot of the story as I've outlined in this paragraph is basically a myth. There is no actual proof that Captain Smith ever performed this act, although I believe one or two passengers claimed that they saw him do so. To enjoy this book, you'll have to buy into the myth and treat it as truth or you'd never be able to take the book seriously. As someone who has a strong interest in all things Titanic, I was not convinced by this section of the book but in truth, the story really begins in the lifeboat anyway. The ship has already sunk within 50 or so pages and we then follow the three main characters throughout their lives.
From there on, I was riveted. Over the next forty or so years, we follow May as she tries to deal with her grief and deception over a decision made on the rescue ship; Celeste as she battles against her violent husband and the constraints of the period, and Angelo as she tries to stop his grief from consuming him. We dip in and out of their lives throughout this period and it's hard not to feel a great deal of sympathy for all three of these main characters. The events of that night touched a great many lives and this is so evident here. It was also a good touch I felt to have a character in Angelo who was not a survivor - a poignant of the devastation felt by so many families in the aftermath.
It's a long book and when I realised that the sinking happened so quickly, I must admit to wondering how the rest of the book would stretch to over 500 pages (hardback) without resorting to filler but my fears were unfounded. Following three characters over such a long time span gives ample material and this extends to May's daughter and Celeste's son later on, all of which helps to bring the story full circle. Be warned, there is a lot of darker aspects to the plot.
Aside from the abusive nature of Celeste's marriage, mental illness and war also make appearances.
I first picked up the book because of the Titanic connection but I'd thoroughly recommend it even if you're not interested in the ship as it's a fascinating read. It's by no means a short book but I read it in three sittings. The chapters are quite short on the whole, with some only lasting a page or two as they switch between characters. This helps to build pace despite there being years' worth of gaps as the plot moves on.