Published: 2006
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 291
Challenge:
Non-Fiction Five Alternate #2

I first read the story of the Rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972 back when I was in high school. Alive by Piers Paul Read was a fascinating and compelling story of these young men who survived under unimaginable conditions for more than 2 months high in the Andes. I chose to skip the movie when it was released because it just seemed too much sensationalism over the fact that they survived by consuming the bodies of their fellow passengers.

Last year, when I found out that this book by one of the survivors was going to be released, I knew that I would read it. Nando Parrado was one of the two survivors who hiked out of the mountains and let the world know that they were still alive and there were others still fighting to stay that way up at the crash site.

This book is more than just a retelling of the story by one of the survivors. It’s also the story of how this horrifying experience has shaped and impacted his life from the perspective of thirty years later.

In Nando’s words – Before:

Life for me was something that was happening today. I had no strong principles, no defining goals or drives. In those days, if you had asked me the purpose of life, I might have laughed and answered, “To have fun.” It did not occur to me that I could only afford the luxury of this carefree attitude because of the sacrifices of my father, who from a very young age, had taken his life seriously.

After:

The mountains were forcing me to change. My mind was growing colder and simpler as it adjusted to my new reality. I began to see life as it must appear to an animal struggling to survive – as a simple game of win or lose, life or death, risk and opportunity. Basic instincts were taking hold, suppressing complex emotions and narrowing the focus of my mind until my entire existence seemed to revolve around the two new organizing principles of my life: the chilling apprehension that I was going to die, and the searing need to be with my father.

After hearing a radio transmission that the search for them had been called off:

I suddenly understood that in this awful place, too much certainty could kill us; ordinary civilized thinking could cost our lives. I vowed to myself that I would never pretend to understand these mountains.

I knew there was more to Numa’s refusal than simple disgust. On some level, he had had enough, and his refusal to eat was his rebellion against the inescapable nightmare our lives had become. Who could survive such a litany of horrors as we had been forced to endure? What had we done to deserve such misery? What was the meaning of our suffering? Did our lives have any value? What kind of God could be so cruel? These questions plagued me every moment, but somehow I understood that thoughts like these were dangerous. They led to nothing but an impotent rage that quickly soured into apathy. In this place, apathy meant death, so I fought off the questions by conjuring thoughts of my family at home.

. . . I took some pictures of Roberto and Tintin with the camera we had found. I thought that if we didn’t make it out alive, someone might find the camera and develop the film, and they would know that we had lived, at least for a while. For some reason, this was important to me.

After more than two months on the mountain Parrado and two other men set out . . . When they reached the summit and realized that they were deeper in the Andes than they had thought, one returned to the wreck. Nando and Roberto Canessa continued on despite their fears that it might be hopeless. 10 days and 70 miles (including a 15,000 foot mountain summit) after leaving the crash site they met up with a Chilean farmer who sent for help.

This book was fascinating, horrifying, and the kind of story that makes you think – could I? would I? I simply cannot imagine the horrors that these men experienced at such a young age. This book goes beyond ‘Alive’ to tell of the aftermath of this experience for Nando and the others. He has gone on to become a successful businessman, speaker and family man.

Why tell this story again all these years after ‘Alive’ was originally written? Co-author Vince Rause asked himself that before he met with Nando Parrado. In his acknowledgements he describes his first meeting and conversation with Nando:

Nando kept his eyes on me as he described these things and there was a quiet urgency in his voice. He wanted me to understand. The story has been told before, he seemed to be saying, but not this story, not my story . . .

It is a story worth reading.