Posts Tagged ‘South America’

Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home by Nanda Parrado

March 26, 2013

Who doesn’t love a great survivor tale?  One of the best is the story of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes where 16 members of a Uruguayan rugby team survived in part by cannibalizing  their  friends and family. The original story was told by British author Piers Paul Read in his 1974 Alive:  The Story of the Andes Survivors. I originally read that book as a high school assignment and I was riveted by what those 16 guys went through up on that godforsaken mountain.

Miracle in the Andes is told from the viewpoint of Nando Parrado, one of the survivors. Not a passive survivor either.  Parrado, was one of the two survivors to walk for 11 days to get help that brought about the rescue after the accident.  Miracle in the Andes is not a retelling of Alive, which was told through the eyes of an outsider; it is the first person account that makes this book so riveting.  Alive was factual, and the author didn’t dwell on emotions, maybe because the story was largely being told by an outside party.  Miracle in the Andes is more complete, with nitty-gritty details that were somewhat glossed over in Alive.  Parrado writes about the decision to cannibalize, “We must believe it is only meat now.” On wondering,  “How long could I stay sane, sitting alone in the fuselage at night, with only ghosts for company…” Of the frustration of finally seeing another human after walking 10 days out of the mountains and trying to convince the sheep herder that indeed, that he had “come from a plane that had fallen into the mountains.” Parrado also gives updates on the other 15 survivors, a kind of “where are they now” for those who read Alive decades ago and wondered how they fared.  This is a well-told, inspirational telling of an incredible survival tale, gritty and emotional.

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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

August 15, 2012

People have been recommending this book to me for the last three years and I have been completely resistant to its charms, mostly because of how it has been described to me – something along the lines of “it’s about a hostage situation, but also about opera.” Bo-ring. Or so I thought.

After having any book recommended to me often enough, I’ll eventually try it, which is how I wound up with a copy of Bel Canto on my nightstand, waiting to be read. The story is loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis that occurred in Lima, Peru in 1996 when the terrorist group the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement took hundreds of government officials hostage, some for as long as 126 days. In Patchett’s fictionalized retelling, a Japanese businessman, Mr. Hosokawa, visits an undisclosed location in South America for a party honoring his birthday. Although invited in the hopes that he would bring business to the area, Hosokawa’s sole reason for attending is the evening’s entertainment – opera singer Roxane Coss. An avid opera-goer, Hosokawa is enchanted by her voice and jumps at the chance for a semi-private performance.

As Roxane and her accompanist finish their recital, armed terrorists descend upon the party in an attempt to make demands of the President, who was presumed to be in attendance (though was in fact at home, watching his soap opera.) What follows is the story of a group of disparate people from different cultures, speaking different languages, and how they help each other survive, hostages and terrorists alike. Some people might say that music becomes the common language for the characters in this book, but I don’t really think that’s true – it gives people something to do with their days, and something to occupy their minds, but the common language is perhaps time; how much of it they have left, and how to best spend what they do have.

The narrative weaves together different characters’ stories and shows how they build a life together over the several months that the hostage situation lasts. The book ends in much the same way that the Japanese Embassy hostage crisis did (so, sorry if I just ruined it for you) and a brief epilogue gives the reader a glimpse into what life after the event looks like for two couples.

This was my first Ann Patchett novel, and I’ll definitely come back for more.

For another perspective on this book, take a look at Brandy H.’s review of it on our blog two years ago.

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The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara

January 13, 2012

A few years after his first South American tour, the would-be Argentine revolutionary once again traveled through the continent and farther north. He experienced how the U.S. helped overthrow the democratically elected government in Guatemala, and he gave up on his dream of improving the world as an individual, he abandoned the “isolated action of a person alone in a social environment.” Others had done this before him, throughout human history. In the New Testament’s Acts 2:44-45, it says about the followers of Jesus, “And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (KJV)

As he wanted to be part of a collective effort, he joined the Cubans who fought to end the violent oppression of the Batista dictatorship. “The revolution,” he said, “is not, as some claim, a standardizer of the collective will, of collective initiative. To the contrary, it is the liberator of human beings’ individual capacity.”

In Cuba, he became known to the world as Che Guevara, but before the revolution, his friends had known him as Ernesto Guevara – a dedicated and compassionate young medical student, who traveled in Latin America with his friend Alberto Granado. The book Guevara wrote about their travels was published as Notas de Viaje, (Travel Notes) which in a way is a better title than the catchier title,  The Motorcycle Diaries, for the motorcycle breaks down fairly early. So, the two have to find other means of transportation. They walk, they ride trucks, they travel by ship, boat, canoe, and raft. They are at times completely broke, they experience terribly cold nights and hunger, and are by no means tourists. They are explorers, learning about the world as they encounter it. They are young scientists, trying to improve the collaboration between scientists in different parts of this vast expanse of the world. They are social observers with keen minds, connecting the past with the present and envisioning a possible future for Latin America. And they are two young rascals, doing whatever they have to do to feed themselves and find transportation.

Guevara is a strong storyteller. He is candid, exposes his own shortcomings, and never even suggests that he is some kind of hero. His writing is fresh, humorous, and vital, and his sudden shifts of perspective make the tale vivid from start to finish, and in the last chapter his writing is on fire.

Leo Tolstoy once argued – in the context of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia – that great events possess a momentum of their own, independent of the will of individuals. This could help explain how a young, ambitious doctor from Argentina was transformed into a man who described himself as a “small soldier of the 20th century.”

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