Monday, January 19, 2015
Book Review: Deep, Down, Dark
And then at some point recently I heard Ann Patchett interviewed on National Public Radio. NPR's Morning Edition has started its own book club, in which they plan to have a well-known writer choose a book he or she loved. Ann Patchett's pick for January is Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free, by Hector Tobar.
I should probably add that I'm a wimp when it comes to reading about certain difficult things. (I avoid things about the Holocaust and incest like the plague, for example.) And reading about miners and mining, let alone miners trapped underground for weeks, is hardly something I'd normally choose. But as I listened to Ann Patchett's interview (you can hear it here), I was reminded of how enthralled I was watching news footage as the miners emerged, one by one, from the mine.
On that day in October, 2010, I was at the quilt retreat I often attend. One friend had her Ipad sitting on her table, streaming the live coverage of the rescue. We gathered around as the "Fenix" rescue pod brought each man up to the surface, and we cheered and hugged. There we were, miles and miles away, a group of financially secure, middle-aged white woman, cheering and wiping tears from our eyes as men whose lives we couldn't even imagine were rescued from an ordeal we had even less ability to conceive of. Over the course of that night, we continued to watch and cheer and feel such joy as each man emerged from the mine. It was a funny sort of bonding experience, but I think it made each of us feel connected to the events unfolding in Chile in an unusual way.
When I started the book, to my surprise I found that it was hard to put down. This book is one of the few inside accounts of those 69 days in the mine, because the miners banded together and agreed that they'd tell their story together. Tobar's writing is very good, and he personalizes it all by telling each man's individual story. You get a sense of each man's life and personality, both before the mine collapse and as the story unfolds. There's a bit of history about the area in Chile, about the mining company that owned the mine and the mine operations. There are stories about the miner's families, how the rescue operations unfolded, and how politics and egos affected things. All of the pieces are woven together skillfully to tell an amazing story. Gripping, I'd even say. I had a hard time putting this book down.
But what comes through is how these ordinary men coped in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. They weren't perfect -- they struggled. They felt and expressed fear and anger. I found it especially interesting to hear how the men have fared since their rescue. Hailed as heroes, they were thrust into a spotlight that was freakishly strange to all of them.
Watching each man emerge from the mine back in October, 2010 made me feel a bit connected to the experience, but reading this book showed me so much more about each of those men, and about the human spirit. I'm really glad I read it, and I'd recommend it.
I think my nonfiction reading plan is off to a very good start.