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Jessop's transporting backstage recollections of life at sea as a stewardess, including hurried departures from the Titanic and Brittanic. Although Jessop provides details of her sickly youth in Argentina (she found saucers her father squirreled away to poison insects and sampled liberally from them) and her role as surrogate parent to four younger brothers, as well as dutiful companion for her widowed mother, this memoir picks up momentum and color when in 1908 she signs on as a stewardess in the burgeoning passenger-ship trade. Jessop writes with an easy and enviable felicity of insufferable charges (""the haughty, gimlet eyes of a certain well-known society woman""), the unwanted gropings from the male staff, her cramped quarters (""so small that to move suddenly meant disaster to some part of one's anatomy""). Jessop ably conveys the complex passenger/steward relationship, which combined discreet social intimacy with a factotum's talent for handling all exigencies of shipboard life. She is also gently droll: ""The floor was generously covered with little skinned rugs that had the appearance of squashed animals."" The horror of the foundering Titanic--""one awful moment of empty, misty darkness . . . then an unforgettable, agonizing cry went up from 1500 despairing throats, a long wail and then silence""--comes at the reader full force, as does the sinking of the hospital ship Brittanic, whose propellers chopped to shreds one lifeboat after another. From there it was on to her days aboard world cruisers and what is perhaps her saddest story, of a rickshaw driver's love and loss. Throughout, editor Maxtone-Graham (The Only Way to Cross, not reviewed) provides unobtrusive and enormously helpful annotations on ports, protocols, and additional tidbits of biography. Jessop was poised and graceful as a stewardess. She displays the same qualities as a writer.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1997
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Sheridan House