Imagine for a moment you’ve just survived a tragic shipwreck and you’re stuck on a lifeboat with several other people you barely know. After a few days of floating aimlessly, another person is hoisted from the sea onto the raft. Someone says, “Thank the Lord we found you.” And the person responds, “I am the Lord.”
No spoiler alert is needed here, as that’s the first scene in Mitch Albom’s great new book, The Stranger in the Lifeboat.
What would be your reaction? “Wow, we’re going to be ok!”? Or perhaps, “Great, another crazed survivor and one more mouth to feed”?
The main characters in this story grapple with the existence of God and what that means for their life. Albom tells this story from two points of view: that of a survivor from the lifeboat and also an investigator on a remote island that a raft from the shipwreck washes up on.
The reader experiences Benji, the survivor, through a diary he keeps while adrift at sea. The problems those on the lifeboat face are harrowing, enough to get readers’ hearts racing. Then every so often something peculiar or miraculous—depending on what you believe—happens on the raft that always has something to do with the random passenger who’s claiming to be God.
Meanwhile, the investigator, Jarty, who finds the raft also finds Benji’s journal. Jarty is dealing with problems of his own, which brings us to the other big theme of the book: loss.
Jarty and his wife, the reader comes to find out, lost their only daughter to the sea. She drowned at a young age and the two have dealt with the loss very differently. Jarty’s wife rests knowing her daughter is in heaven, but Jarty goes about his life with a hole in his heart, angry at God for taking his daughter away.
All of Albom’s books make readers think deeply about their own life, and this one is no different. Readers who appreciate Tuesdays with Morrie, for its ability to tell a beautiful story while prompting readers to look inward and examine their beliefs .
But The Stranger in the Lifeboat doesn’t just cause you to think about life’s big questions; it’s also just downright entertaining, and a perfect page-turner for holiday travel. Who is this stranger in the lifeboat? The answer will leave you feeling at peace, yet endlessly curious.
The holidays can be hard for those with loved ones who have passed away. Losing someone often leaves us asking questions we don’t feel like we’ll ever get the answers to, asking God, or the universe, whatever you believe, ‘why did the world take this person away from us?’ Instead, Albom—no stranger to loss himself—asks a different question: “Why did God give them to us?”