Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Riddle of the U-boat


Detroit Free Press
By Marta Salij
February 26, 2006

Community book choice goes below to solve a WWII mystery
It's hard for me to imagine risking my life to satisfy my curiosity, but explorers do it all the time.
Especially scuba divers. Go deep enough, and the water is dark and cold and heavy. Your life depends on some sophisticated machinery and its gauges, which tell you how much air you have left, how much time you've been down and even which way is up.

If the gauges fail, or you read them wrong, or you lose your head or your way in the cold, dark deep, you're no longer an explorer. You're a corpse.

All of which makes it clear how dangerous an adventure is undertaken in "Shadow Divers" by Robert Kurson, the true story of an unusual underwater exploration.

In "Shadow Divers," two salvage scuba divers, who dive shipwrecks for fun and for loot, discover what seems to be a World War II U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. It's very deep, more than 200 feet underwater, which makes it an especially perilous dive.

The problem is, no one -- no government, no maritime historian, no experienced diver -- has ever heard of a U-boat going down in those waters. In other words, what Richie Kohler and John Chatterton believe they've found couldn't possibly exist. End of story?

That's where the curiosity kicks in. Not only do Kohler and Chatterton refuse to give up when they find their U-boat in 1991, they spend six years diving the wreck repeatedly, trying to figure out exactly which submarine they've found. It turns out to be a very tricky detective story, because neither the waterlogged sub nor the land-locked bureaucrats are eager to divulge their secrets.

Both Kohler and Chatterton pay a significant price for their curiosity. And some of the diving colleagues they involve in their adventure pay with their lives.

Kurson tells Kohler's and Chatterton's stories in his detail-rich narrative, but it doesn't stop there. After the divers identify the sub, they recreate the lives of some of the crew members -- which Kurson adds to his book, to make this more than a mere adventure tale.

Everyone's book
"Shadow Divers" is this year's pick of the Everyone's Reading community program, in which libraries throughout a metro area agree to sponsor readings and events around a single book or author. This is Everyone's Reading's fifth year.

Nineteen local libraries are sponsoring the program.

Author Kurson will be reading at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham and at the West Bloomfield and Canton libraries on April 4 and 5, during National Library Week.

But other events, such as discussions of U-boat history and showings of the "Nova" documentary that spurred Kurson's research, are also planned at different libraries. Please check with your local library for its events or see for a complete list.



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