I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Fingerpress on June 16th, 2013
Genres: Historical, Historical Fiction
280 survivors. One tyrant. The true story of the Batavia shipwreck. The chilling, true story of the shipwreck of the Batavia could so easily have been the template for William Golding's Lord of the Flies. In June 1629, the Dutch merchantman Batavia, laden with treasure and the riches of Europe, smashed into an uncharted reef thirty miles off the coast of Terra Incognita Australis-the unknown Great South Land. 200 survivors-women and children, sailors, soldiers and merchants-scrambled ashore on a small group of uninhabited, hostile islands, with little food or fresh water. Desperately seeking help, the ship's officers set out in an open boat to make a two-thousand-mile journey to the nearest port. While they were gone, from the struggle for survival on the islands there emerged a tyrant whose brutal lust for power was even deadlier than the reef that wrecked the Batavia
This brutal moment in history had completely escaped me until To Die A Dry Death appeared on my dashboard.
Before this book, I had never heard of the Dutch commercial trading ship The Batavia, or its shipwreck in 1629 off the Australian coast. I had never heard the tale of the 300-some survivors, quite literally marooned on deserted islands, and I had certainly never been made aware of the horrifying massacre that would follow, resulting in the deaths of nearly half of these survivors. Obviously, this drew my interest. How could such a thing happen?
To Die A Dry Death is a fictionalized, yet studiously accurate retelling of the Batavia shipwreck, and the struggle to survive on islands without so much as fresh water. The book weaves a depressing, hopeless atmosphere of limited resources and rough exposure, that escalates to frenzied, dark terror when one of the survivors manipulates his way to tyrannical power, that would ultimately end in slaughter, torture, fear, and destruction. This book makes no excuses nor attempts to provide reason or insight into the monstrous behaviour of the tyrant or his henchmen; instead, it focuses on the isolated exploration of what happens when society simply breaks down. On an island with no food, no water, and as many women and children and elderly as there are able bodied men, brutality comes swiftly, and the hope of rescue is a diminished pipe dream.
This book starts off quite quickly launching almost directly into the shipwreck, and once the reader has grown accustomed to the awkward Dutch titles and names, it is easy to become drawn into the fear of the unknown, and the task of near impossible survival placed on these passengers. Not having been aware of this historical event, I didn’t research the Batavia shipwreck before reading, so there was a constant looming thought in the back of my mind as I read – which of these characters was going to become a mass murderer? And why?
Considering the accuracy of the writing, it is almost impossible to critique plot, so I will focus on the delivery. Van der Rol overall is clearly a detail oriented writer, but this often causes a conflict of moments that are jumbled, and moments that are jarring. I caught myself drifting over segments of several pages looking for a point, only to be tripping over it a little while later. The tale also felt a little uneven in progression – there was much time devoted to attempting to survive, and yet once the violence began, it escalated so quickly, but I wonder if that was the nature of her historical evidence. When murders began, they escalated exponentially. Nevertheless, she managed to personalize the names on her surviving records into characters to become emotionally invest in — even if that did you no favors when they were murdered.
This book is a recommend for me, purely for the subject matter.