SOLE SURVIVOR by Ruthanne Lum McCunn


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Here, McCunn (Thousand Pieces of Gold, 1981) fictionalizes (barely) the true story of merchant seaman Poon Lim's incredible 133 days adrift on a life raft in the Atlantic. Although Poon Lim, 22, had shipped out at 16 and was second steward aboard a British merchant ship, he was unprepared for the ordeal that followed its torpedo attack and sinking on November 23, 1942. Lim knew little about ships or the ocean, since Chinese seamen were forbidden to learn more than menial skills. During the months on the life raft, Lim gradually developed self-reliance, confidence, and a sense of mastery. In the beginning, when Lira lost clothes and life jacket, he washed in but did not save rainwater, tossed back flying fish, and shot off all his flares during a near rescue attempt (aborted possibly because he was Chinese). About 40 days into the float, he realized that he had to provide for himself after he exhausted his provisions. He caught rainwater and fish and even came to enjoy being a castaway, decorating the raft with fish skeletons and bits of tin. A severe storm fouled his stores, however, and Lira came close to dying. But he endured this greatest hardship by drinking his own urine and eating the birds that started to alight on the raft. Some time later he was picked up by a Brazilian fisher family. An epilogue explains the aftermath--citations, back pay, and a permanent resident's visa in the US. Poon Lim, even with the boost of fiction, is a not very interesting character; and even though his frustrating passivity may be an entirely realistic human response to adversity, it does little to lift the book to the level of drama.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1985
Publisher: Design Enterprises of San Francisco