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September meeting of The Narrative Nonfiction Book Club

This month the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club read Alive: the story of the Andes survivors by Piers Paul Read, first published in 1974.  It is the true story of a group of forty-five Uraguayans, most of whom were young members of the Old Christians Rugby team on their way to a game in Chile, when their plane crashed in the Andes, well off their intended route.  Sixteen people survived in a frigid, barren, and dangerous landscape for ten weeks before two of the healthiest young men were able to hike over a high mountain and down into civilization where they sought rescue for their friends.  The author’s even handed narrative describes with frank realism just what the survivors had to do to keep their bodies and souls intact while they struggled with the loss of their dead friends and family, life threatening injuries, hopelessness, fear, and starvation. 

If you are looking for a book to stimulate animated discussion this should be on your short list!  It seemed that everyone in the group remembered the event when it played out in international news the winter of 1972 and had good observations and strong feelings to share.  If you are not familiar with the story already, it came out, against the boys’ wishes, that they had to eat the flesh of the deceased in order to survive so long.  Being devout Christians, they viewed the act as taking communion, to help them deal with their revulsion. We had a lot to discuss over this topic.  Were they morally obligated to eat the flesh to stay alive because starving would be a form of suicide, which is a sin in their religion?  How did they deal with the truth when they returned to civilization and had to face the friends and families of those they ate?  We discussed other topics as well, such as: How did they spend their time?  What else enabled them to survive - their organized community, their team spirit, their youth, their physical fitness, their complex relationships? What lasting effects did this experience have on them? Before we knew it our appointed hour had come to an end and we felt like there was more we hadn’t covered yet. 

Some group members planned on reading Miracle in the Andes:  72 days on the mountain and my long trek home (2006) by Nando Parrado, the leader of the two who hiked to civilization, because this event proved to be so riveting.  One woman exclaimed that it wasn’t about the individuals or even the group surviving.  It was about humanity.  Indeed, it was.

Join us next month for Agent Garbo: the brilliant, eccentric secret agent who tricked Hitler and saved D-Day by Stephan Talty.  The publisher’s summary says in part, ”Agent Garbo tells the astonishing story of a self-made secret agent who matched wits with the best minds of the Third Reich—and won. Juan Pujol was a nobody, a Barcelona poultry farmer determined to oppose the Nazis. Using only his gift for daring falsehoods, Pujol became Germany’s most valued agent—or double agent: it took four tries before the British believed he was really on the Allies’ side. In the guise of Garbo, Pujol turned in a masterpiece of deception worthy of his big-screen namesake. He created an imaginary million-man army, invented armadas out of thin air, and brought a vast network of fictional subagents whirring to life.” Pick up a copy of the book at the reference desk and come to the discussion on Friday, October 4, 2013 at 10:00 AM.  Hope to see you there!

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