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Last year an offshore patrol vessels was commissioned – Named after the Irish author Samuel Beckett this boat was dispatched from the Irish Naval Service and ended up tackling one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of our lifetime. But I’d bet I’m not the only person who has never heard of it before. I only found out when I started trawling through Emma Jane Kirby’s twitter profile.

The Optician of Lampedusa - Emma Jane Kirby

The Optician of Lampedusa – Emma Jane Kirby

In July Emma Jane Kirby was onboard the LE Samuel Beckett to talk about her book – The Optician of Lampedusa. It is fitting because LE Samuel Beckett has saved 4000 migrants – and saving migrants is the big topic tackled by this small book.

The Optician of Lampedusa is a short and difficult story following of a local unnamed optician on his weekend off. This weekend he decided to take his wife and friends out in his 10 person yacht from the coast of the small Italian island of Lampedusa. A holiday weekend. The unimaginable happens as the party are first on the scene when a boat sinks. The boat was no ordinary boat, it was an overloaded and unseaworthy vessel full of people desperate to escape from Libya to find asylum in Italy.

Emma Jane Kirby uses 120 pages to document the tragedy through the eyes of the optician and his companions. Out of over 400 people who were in the water the weekenders were able to help to save 47 people – risking their own lives and boats to get the people back safely to shore.

The Optician of Lampedusa - Emma Jane Kirby

Have I just spoiled the whole book?

No, the story does not stop with the gruelling rescue, you will wince as the optician attempts to turn back to save more of the drowning and you will be downcast as he tries to get updates on the people who he helped to save.

Emma Jane Kirby is a talented journalist, known best for her presence on BBC Radio 4. Her experience has made this true story accessible. I have one word for the challenge of this book – it makes the plight of displaced people unignorable. It makes their plight real and concrete and serious.

Unignorable. Moving. Serious.

Kirby faithfully retells a tragedy and prompts us to tackle the question – What would I do if it happened to me? Remember this is a true story, and it isn’t a one off. The true story is that the Lampedusa tragedy left 368 people dead. They optician of Lampedusa said “We saved 47 people that day, A hero would have saved them all.” The disaster is ongoing – read this book to have a small glimpse of what is happening to many people displaced by war and violence. Well done to Emma Jane Kirby for taking this story and making it readable and real.

More information:

Help Refugees


Barnabas Fund


ASOS Choose LoveĀ 

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.