Citizen Reading: 25 July 2016
Friday Book Lists: 29 July 2016

Roberto Canessa's I Had to Survive.

One of the best nonfiction books I've ever read is Piers Paul Read's Alive. It's the account of the 1972 plane crash of a team of high school rugby players (and their friends and family) who, while flying from Uruguay to Chile, crashed in the Andes. (That description does not do it justice. Go read this review.)

A while back another book about the crash came out, this one by one of the survivors, Nando Parrado. So I got that too (Miracle in the Andes), and found it to be another interesting perspective on the crash. So when I saw a new book this year, titled I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives, by another one of the survivors, Roberto Canessa, I thought, well, I should probably just read it too.

And after a chapter or two of it, I thought I wouldn't continue--after all, I've read about this story before, and Canessa seemed to be taking the book in the direction of inspirational or self-help, exploring how his time on the mountain and his trek to find rescuers with Parrado shaped his life thereafter. After the crash, Canessa continued his education and medical training and eventually became a world-renowned pediatric cardiologist. Much of this book is about his experiences working with the families of babies with heart issues, and many of those stories are told not only by Canessa but also by the individuals in question.

But I stuck with it, and found that I got sucked into the story all over again. Canessa's account of the first few days after the crash, the screams and moans during the nights stuck in the crashed plane fuselage, and the slow dying of their hope that they would of course be rescued, is just as unbelievable as everything else I've read on the subject. Likewise, his story of the trek out, battling subzero temps, snow blindness, weakness, not knowing where they were, and even one night having to sleep while standing up, perched on a nearly vertical ledge, well, again: unbelievable. As Canessa tells his story, eventually he intersperses more stories of his life after the ordeal, and his professional experiences as a doctor, and those parts are interesting too--to see how the crash and trek perhaps changed him (or more likely highlighted certain aspects of a personality and will he already had), provided yet another valuable viewpoint on the whole story and history.

The book is written with (or by? who knows), another author, Pablo Vierci, and also includes chapters told by the families of babies whom Canessa has worked with over the years.These chapters were really a bit more inspirational than I typically like to go, but by then I was 180 pages in and figured I had to finish. One woman who has been his patient for more than twenty years reported that Canessa told her that her "heart condition wasn't a disability but simply a series of life's hurdles to be overcome one at a time." (p. 276.) And you know what? Just for today, I did find that a little inspirational. Don't tell anyone, 'kay?

I can't say it's a great book. It's written with someone and it's a bit odd the way it jumps around in viewpoint. If you haven't read anything on this subject you really shouldn't start here; you should start with Alive. But if you have read that book, and feel interested enough to continue, this was a different take on the subject, and could be worth a read to you.