Not what I was expecting, this book

Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, Nando Parrado with Vince Rause. I picked this, somewhat randomly, off the book shelf at REI on Saturday. I bought a pair of sunglasses off REI Outlet and had them shipped to the relatively new local store for pickup, so I took the opportunity to wander the aisles of the first floor — so many fun things. Among all of the books — the practical ones about hiking, climbing and backpacking and the stories about mountaineering — this one stuck out a little, being the story of the survivors of a late-winter airline crash high in the mountains. It’s also a departure from my recent “adventure” reading, since it is much more about surviving a disaster than about exploration.

Perhaps because of that, I started reading it wanting the facts of what happened, how they survived, how they got out and what the climbing and hiking were like on the various efforts to get out. This book does not try to offer all of that. In fact, it’s in ghostwriter Rause’s acknowledgments that we read that the intent from the beginning for this book, written 34 years after the events described, was to complement, rather than to duplicate, the more fact-laden Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, written 32 years prior.

That is not at all to imply that the authors got their facts wrong in this book. On the contrary, the facts seem well established, but the authors’ focus here was elsewhere. In the ensuing three decades, Parrado had learned to speak to groups about the horrible experience, and this book captures his well developed personal narrative. It is the dashed hopes, lessening sanity, troubled faith and growing desperation of the group, and Parrado himself primarily, that are described most here. Knowing this, I can hear almost hear his voice describing the horrors then, humbly, their eventual, hard fought triumph and resultant reunions. It is clear that to hear him speak in person would not be easily forgotten.

Had I known this deliberate choice of perspective, I would have read Alive first, then this. However, for someone like myself that knew nothing of this story and had not seen the associated movie or documentary, reading the well regarded third-party book based on early interviews of the survivors would have been a better first step and left me a little more patient to appreciate Parrado’s introspection. He deserves nothing less, and I would suggest you follow the course of reading the other book prior to this one.

Because this was written three decades later, the reader also gets the benefit of hearing how Parrado’s life has shaped up (quite well, considering the thread by which it hung). The entire book is intensely personal storytelling, and I couldn’t help but compare my life to that of Parrado — not his struggle in the Andes but the stages of his life before and after the crash and escape. I can see why he can inspire an audience to reach for better than they have, stretch to be better than they are. I do not buy books looking for such reactions in myself but stumbled on a good one here.