Thursday, September 2, 2010

Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read

genre: non-fiction

When you know from the beginning of a book that a plane full of young Rugby players crash lands in the snowy Andes mountains, and yet somehow some of those boys survive for weeks and weeks - you know it's not going to be a pretty story. And it's not. It's survival at its grittiest core, what do we humans really need to stay alive? Their story is told in an incredibly straightforward, almost newspaper-story type narrative. There's no real emotion. There's no flowery speech. It's just as true of a retelling as you can get under the circumstances and if I'm going to read non-fiction, that's exactly how I like it.

What they go through on that mountain is so grueling: the terror, the fear, the frustration, the pain and hunger and the bone biting cold. And yet what's interesting is their faith throughout, their actual, real belief that they will be saved despite the deck being stacked against them. They get creative and turn the carcass of the plane into a shelter, they go on expeditions to find out where they are and look for help, they make their own blankets and sleeping bags and perform emergency medical procedures on each other. They eat everything that could possibly be eaten until there is nothing left but the bodies of their comrades that are frozen out in the snow. In order to stay alive, those are eaten too. It does make one squeamish, to read the grisly details of their meals and I keep asking myself if I could do it. Would I do whatever it took to be with my children again?

Regardless of what I would do, this story did make for some very interesting reading. I could NOT for the life of me keep all the foreign names of those boys and their parents straight, though. It drove me loco. I finally gave up and by the end I knew who maybe five of them really were, but honestly, it didn't matter that much. The author did his best.

No, this story is not for the faint of heart and sometimes, of course, people let their weaknesses get the better of them. But I found this incredible sense of triumph. Human beings are absolutely astonishing creatures and it's amazing how deep that survival instinct can burn.

1 comment:

Cindy Dashnaw said...

I loved this book. Yes, it's gritty, but when I was finished, I was proud of what these people did to survive and incensed that anyone criticized them for it. Thanks for bringing attention to this great book!

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