Book about sea rescue: That’s why “shipwreck off Lampedusa” under the skin

Book about Sea Rescue
:That’s why “shipwreck off Lampedusa” gets under your skin

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    Cornelia Geissler

A refugee boat on June 10, 2017 off the island of Lampedusa.

A refugee boat on June 10, 2017 off the island of Lampedusa.


Chris McGrath

There are still websites where holidaymakers share their experiences of swimming and lodging on Lampedusa and praise the island’s rugged beauty. Davide Enia writes on page 12 of his book: “The term ‘Lampedusa’ has become a container word that contains all sorts of things: migration, border fences, shipwrecks, solidarity, tourism, holiday season, outskirts, miracles, heroism, despair, torment, death, rebirth “Liberation – all these meanings in a single word, a hodgepodge that can neither be properly interpreted nor has a recognizable shape.”

“Appunti per un naufragio”, is the name of the book in Italian, notes on a shipwreck. The German publisher has taken the charged name of the island in the title. Nobody can feel taken by surprise when refugees are being talked about in “Shipwreck off Lampedusa”. It’s a book that grabs the reader in an unusual way. This should be understood as a recommendation and a warning at the same time. Because the reading gets under the skin, but it also enriches, leads the thoughts into the depths, where they usually remain on the surface.

We know that while the mind is in demand to receive the news, it quickly becomes overwhelmed when it comes to the number of people making their way from the African continent to Europe when it comes to the dangers of this crossing, alone the conditions that make citizens refugees: war, religion, hunger, sexuality, ethnicity.

Davide Enia combines walks across the island with its personal history

But this is not a non-fiction book, these considerations and figures form the invisible framework of the narrative, but the author has set out to understand how Lampedusa looks like a bottleneck to Europe. He goes in the midst of the inhabitants who work on ships or in the reception center, who leave their holiday homes when it comes to spend food, drink and clothing to the newcomers.

The two documentary films “Lampedusa in Winter” and “Fuocoammare / Seefeuer” also brought the hard-to-understand details into focus with their close-up shots. Davide Enia can not show anything, he tells. The filter of the language is much closer than that of a camera, but the language can also depict scenes in more detail or more spaciously. Above all, it can change from the outside to the inside perspective. Enia links his walks across the island with his personal history.

The playwright, actor and novelist was born in 1974 on the Italian Mediterranean island of Sicily. The much smaller, southern Lampedusa was an early name for him, because his mother had worked there for a while and because he spent his holidays there as a teenager with friends. He comes to the point during his visits, because he needs his father to process what he sees on the island – his father, with whom he has never spoken much. Thus, the author uses a key also to the sensations of the reader: In generational relationships, everyone can self-locate.

When refugee boat sinks, action must be taken quickly

“I thought about it,” Enia writes after meeting a rescue diver, “that every time I meet here on the island, every goddamn time, I feel like I’m talking to a person whose soul was a single graveyard.” Rescue Diver, tall and strong, appears confident. He does not want to be understood as a leftist, but humanism alone is guiding him. On calm seas, when the castaways wait patiently in the face of the lifeboats, everything runs smoothly, he says. “But sometimes they are so frantic and frantic that the rescue cruiser is about to capsize.”

And if the refugee boat is already sinking, must be acted extremely quickly: “If you have three people in front of you, who go down, and five meters further drowned a mother with her child – what do you do then? Where are you going swimming? Who do you save first? The three in front of you or the mother with the newborn a few feet further? “The author sees this man cry.

Another Coast Guard captain, patrol boat mistress, says he and his crew use the time off the field for fitness training. Sport is more than a compensation for him. The shipwrecked are often not only exhausted, but by sitting long on overcrowded boats stiff limbs, could hardly rain if you reach out to hand them.

The bridge to the father

“One time we saved 1300 people in one mission, only with the power of our arms, one by one, each one individually. It took hours. “But he also tells what it looks like when such a boat capsizes, first the gesticulating hands rise and the next moment nothing more. “Our feelings are with those we can not save.”

The author breaks up his story about the captain and includes the rendering of this conversation in a telephone conversation with his father. He tells him in stages what the sea rescuer said, so determines the order. The dramatic highlight here is the episode, when 158 shipwrecked people were rescued alive on one day – and a crew member could not accept that a boy should not have made it.

Davide Enia: Shipwreck off Lampedusa. From the Italian by Susanne Van Volxem and Olaf Matthias Roth.

Davide Enia: Shipwreck off Lampedusa. From the Italian by Susanne Van Volxem and Olaf Matthias Roth. With an afterword by Albert Ostermaier. Wallstein, Gttingen 2019. 238 p., 20 Euro.


Screenshot Wallstein Verlag

Twenty minutes of chest compressions, he made the boy come back to life. This is the bridge to the father, emeritus cardiologist – for Davide Enia a personal link to the exceptional situation in which the rescuers are.

Life goes on

The harbor master, questioned after his worst moment on Lampedusa, does not speak at the moment of the arrival of the exhausted people in the glitter films, not of the body bags, but of the death of a colleague in a serious illness. The author realizes – and lets the reader share his thoughts – that the shared experiences of the people in the port of Lampedusa are comparable to the horror experiences of soldiers in war. “Not only love creates bonds. But also the violence. “

Life goes on, you say. Who has suffered a loss, knows that life, even if it continues, is not the same as before. Lampedusa has lost his innocence as a holiday island. When a close friend of the author died, Enia says late in the book, he was stunned for a long time. The news of the biggest disaster off Lampedusa on October 3, 2013, when 368 bodies were recovered from the sea, finally solved his blockade. During Enias’s visit to Lampedusa, his uncle, his brother’s father, is struggling with cancer.

Paralyzed in fear, both are unable to drive to him for months. Davide Enia risks linking these experiences in his book if one could accuse him of leveling out the agony and death of others through his personal suffering. But that’s how the human psyche works when it tries to filter the unbelievable.

Davide Enias stops at his look to the refugees

With “shipwreck off Lampedusa”, he himself put only a pebble in the current mosaic, the author suggests, as he brings the threads together. Because still missing the stories of those who are on the run. “Our words do not adequately grasp their reality” – the words about boundaries, fences, walls; the documentaries with the bodies of the living and the dead, their stories of hopes and deceits, traffickers and smugglers, rape and beatings.

Davide Enia’s concerns are valid. As shaky as he writes of the helpers, as close as he comes to them, he still stands at his perceptions from the outside when he looks at the refugees.

A change of perspective succeeds in this country with the project “Continue writing”, in which currently 22 refugees or living in crisis areas authors work together with German-speaking writers. The German Literature Fund has just decided to support the initiative for three years. June 20th is World Refugee Day. Like every day of the year.