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Power in Believing: ‘The Stranger in the Lifeboat’ Book Review

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

Imagine you’re on a ship of Titanic-level proportions. You’re sitting at a table eating dinner when suddenly, there’s a rumbling under your feet. You hear the clatter of falling wine glasses and silverware. The ship explodes. It’s a complete blur of how you went from eating spaghetti to being launched into the open ocean. Despite the rough waves, you make it to a lifeboat.  

Days pass, and there’s still no sign of rescue. The food and water supply quickly dwindles, and with it, so does hope. Unexpectedly, the monotony is broken when you spot a man floating in the water. You and the others row over to him and pull him into the lifeboat. His appearance in the middle of the ocean was unexpected enough. But then, one survivor says, “Thank the Lord, we found you.” And with no hint of humor, he replies, “I am the Lord.”  

You’re still reeling from such an unusual statement when the stranger adds, “I can save you all, but you all must believe who I say I am.” What would you do? Would you laugh in his face? The saltwater must’ve gotten to his head. Would you sink to the floor, feeling more hopeless than before? Or would you, maybe, possibly, believe him?  

This is the dilemma the characters face in Mitch Albom’s The Stranger in the Lifeboat. It’s a novel that pushes you to question your most foundational beliefs and, at the same time, fuels a part of all of us who want something to devote ourselves to. 

This book is a page-turner. I finished it in less than a day, which hasn’t happened in a while. Albom alternates between two perspectives — one in the present and one in the past. This makes the book feel fast-paced and suspenseful as you wait to see how these two perspectives intertwine.  

Albom’s writing is frank and almost casual. He presents moments of insight as though they’re dull observations, as if he’d just noted that the sky is blue. Yet he packs so much truth and beauty in his sentences. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “It takes so much to make you feel big in this world. It only takes an ocean to make you feel tiny.”  

In an interview, the author talks about being Christian, so unsurprisingly, the novel’s theme of faith is told through a Christian lens. However, I think the label you put on what you believe is largely arbitrary. You can believe in the universe, a god, gods, etc., and you will get the same final product: hope. There is hope you can overcome anything because there is something much bigger than you and your circumstances. A line from the book goes, “We all need to hold onto something, Benji,” which I think perfectly sums up why many seek faith. It acts as a lifeboat you cling onto in uncertain waters.

If there’s anything I learned from the story, it’s that the act of believing is creating. Believe in something hard enough and it becomes your reality. 

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Ranya(ron-yuh) is a staff writer for Florida State University's Her Campus chapter. She is dual degreeing in cell and molecular neuroscience and English with a minor in art history. Ranya is a research assistant in the biomedical sciences department and is a member of the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering (WIMSE) LLC. She enjoys reading, watching the Great British Baking Show, and playing piano. If she isn't at the student union getting her daily Starbucks fix, you can find her terrorizing the campus cats and begging them for pets.