As usual this month, there were some winners and some losers.
The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly by Dennis O’Donnell – Written by a guy who was an orderly for many years in a psychiatric unit, he loosely retells stories that he witnessed and experienced with patients and other orderlies. I admit that I chose this one hoping for some shocking stories, stuff that would disturb me. Instead, it was a somewhat “heartwarming” account of how people with mental illness struggled but then were also treated by a generally competent staff in a competent place. Which is all fine and dandy – I can sleep easier – but it just wasn’t what my warped brain was looking for. I also struggled to read the Scottish dialogue and felt that some of the stories felt contrived, or molded for a purpose. For me it was meh, but I could see people who are into Oprah’s Book Club enjoying this one.
438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathon Franklin – Aha! This one was much more my speed! I vaguely remembered reading about this story when it hit the news: a Mexican fisherman rescued after over a year adrift in the Pacific, and it was so unbelievable that many called it a hoax. This book tells the story of an experienced fisherman, Salvador Alvarenga (actually Salvadorian), who was caught in a storm and then survived for 438 days adrift with no supplies in an open boat. His survival skills are unmatched as he learned to catch fish and birds with his hands and scavenge garbage to make tools and shelter.
And just when you think being rescued is the end of the story – it’s not. His physical and mental state are seriously damaged, and his story was put into question. But if you read this book, you’ll see that how intelligent and determined he was to survive (he was drinking his urine and eating raw turtles by day 5 – no down time for him!).
Papillon by Henri Charriere – At the end of 438 days, the journalist who wrote the book said that Alvarenga was his version of “Papillon” – the guy who manages to continue to survive despite all odds. There is a lot of controversy over who is the real Papillion, and the inter web tells me the story is probably not true despite the claim.
After reading this book, I DON’T CARE. I hated it; I hated him. The narrator was full of himself from the first moment, and in fact I enjoyed when prison guards beat him mercilessly. It seemed at times he was proclaiming the gross inequities and brutalities of incarceration (which I have no doubt are true everywhere) and then two minutes later he was full of false bravado about his intellect. His escapes seem phony, or at least wildly embellished, along with all the romantic pursuits. I couldn’t finish this book fast enough, and not in a good way.
Want to more about Salvador Alvarenga – the real deal?