29 March 2010

Shadow Divers

I've just finished reading Shadow Divers, a historical novel about divers who discovered a sunken U-Boat in New Jersey waters that was unknown to history. The book is exciting, very exciting at times, and I highly recommend it. Best of all, though, it's a true story (I don't care much for fiction).

Yes, I actually read this one and didn't just listen to the audiobook.

The book follows a group of pioneering divers as they spend years diving the wreck and researching naval records to identify the sunken boat. What makes it a good story is that they weren't just treasure hunters attempting to make some cash off of recovered artifacts. They were attempting to solve a mystery and set the historical record straight.

Synopsis from the back cover:
In the fall of 1991, in the frigid Atlantic waters sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey, weekend scuba divers John Chatteron and Richie Kohler made a startling discovery under decades of accumulated sediment: a World War II German U-boat, its interior a maze of twisted metal and human bodies. Equally astonishing: All the official records agreed that there simply could not be a sunken U-boat at that location. Over the next six years, an elite team of divers embarked on a quest to solve the mystery. Some of them would not live to see its end.
My only complaint is that I don't feel like the book is very realistic about the sentiments of German soldiers at the time. When the divers finally identify the boat, there is a chapter that paints a picture of the lives of the crew that perished (based on accounts from surviving relatives). It valorizes the soldiers and completely avoids the fact that these people were Nazis. In fact, the only harsh words in the book are directed at Hitler himself, as if he was the only bad guy among them. Perhaps some of the U-Boat soldiers held unspoken dissenting views, but they were all complicit and they all fought to expand Nazi power.

I can appreciate what these divers did, though. They pushed the boundaries of what was possible and they proved the inaccuracy of the historical record. I'm inspired by their philosophy, purpose, and determination. It makes me want to start diving wrecks (something that hadn't really appealed to me as of yet), mainly because it combines two things that I really enjoy, diving and history.

A matter of pure coincidence, before reading this book, I had contacted a dive operation in the Dominican Republic about their technical diving certification courses. When I re-visited their website today, I noticed that Chatterton was featured on their homepage and is somehow affiliated with their business. I looked back in my old emails, and it was his wife that had responded to my original inquiry. She said the staff is not available for training at the moment because they are "engaged in a commercial diving project." Something tells me they've discovered a new wreck.

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