Well dang it – I already screwed up my “Read one classic book a month” goal. I really did start a classic, but after about 70 pages it was so boring! (The title of this book shall remain nameless). So instead, I gravitated back to my comfort zone…
Let’s just say I’m a pseudo expert on the 1972 plane crash in the Andes that left a team of Uruguayan rugby players stranded in the mountains. Most kids were reading RL Stine in 5th grade, but I was carrying my tattered copy of Alive and absorbing every National Geographic article about the disaster. When the movie starring Ethan Hawke came out a year later, I watched it repeatedly on pay-per-view. In my adult life, I’ve seen every documentary and read every article I can find – every story adds a new layer.
So you can imagine how excited I was to see that Roberto Canessa (one of the two guys who literally hiked ten days in subzero temperatures through the mountains to seek help) had just written a new book.
I Had to Survive by Roberto Canessa – This book is great for those familiar and unfamiliar to the event. Roberto Canessa gives a pretty descriptive account from his perspective, and really focuses on the ten day trek at the end of it all – which often doesn’t get much attention. The whole cannibalism thing gets sensationalized a lot in the media, but there’s a lot more to understand about how they survived for 72 days through a host of unlucky circumstances in the mountains.
Today, he is a famous heart surgeon and describes the impact of the crash on his pursuit to save other peoples’ lives. There are many excerpts from family members and parents of children he has saved. I will admit that the final chunk of excerpts, each written by a parent describing their baby being saved by Canessa was monotonous and boring to me – probably because babies also bore me. But overall, I was very satisfied with the book and his overall message that people can do some pretty impossible things.
The North Water by Ian McGuire – Holy crap this book is disturbing (and this comes from the girl who things plane crash cannibalism is chill). Set in the 19th century, when arctic whaling was still a big industry, a disgraced surgeon joins a whaling expedition that is riddled with disaster. About midway through the book, I almost couldn’t go on. McGuire’s view of humanity is dismal, as every character is loathsome and despicable. It’s hard to even identify a protagonist. You’ve got graphic violence against animals, rape and murder of children, corruption and apathy of those sworn to protect. The writing is cinematic and I had to respect that it didn’t romanticize the business of whaling, or cut corners around the atrocities men have committed. It’s fiction, but as someone who has also spent a lot of time reading about 19th century naval disasters (it’s a niche market :D), it rings very true to the brutality that men condoned.
If you’ve got a strong stomach, and a taste for the gothic, pick up this book. If you prefer your Victorian stories to be more sanitized, you might be sorry.
Sidenote: I read that The North Water was optioned for television, probably to be aired on the BBC.