10 March 2008

Lost to the page.

Remember that nasty cold I mentioned? I hesitate to throw around the phrase "too sick to blog," because I probably could have struggled up a two-sentence entry in the past four days, but it just didn't seem worth it. I'm not alarmingly dizzy any more, but please continue to send me all the virtual orange juice you have at your disposal.

Before I got sick, I had just finished Ken Dornstein's memoir THE BOY WHO FELL OUT OF THE SKY, which is part survivor memoir, part mystery. The boy in question is Ken's brother David, who was flying back to America after spending some time in Israel when he was killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 at 25. After Ken graduated from college, he decided to try and find out more about his older brother, a process that would take him years and include a trip to Lockerbie, Scotland to see the crash sites and interviews with David's friends, bosses, mentors and lost loves. The best sources he had on David, though, were the notebooks, stories and random shreds of paper that his older brother, an aspiring novelist who supposedly was carrying the first draft of his great work on the plane, had entrusted to him before he died. These journals, letters and stories were the biggest influence in how Ken reconstructed his brother's life up to his last day.

Reading THE BOY WHO FELL OUT OF THE SKY was, for me, a very painful, almost unbearable experience. I never gave up on the book but I could hardly stand to read more than a few chapters at a time, not because it was bad but because of how much I didn't want to think about the ramifications of the story being told. I have three siblings, and while I don't spend my every waking hour worrying for their safety, this book threw into sharp relief for me the impossibility of being prepared for the random, stupid tragedies that life holds. David Dornstein, as depicted in the book, didn't always eat his vegetables or get enough sleep at night, but he didn't live in such a way as to foreshadow such a finale (although he does so, eerily, in some of his writings). His most risky choice, perhaps, was to live in Israel, as he did for months without incident before boarding the Pan Am flight.

Given all this, it's hard for me to recommend this book as I would hesitate to recommend anything that was so hard to get through, although it did an excellent job of humanizing an event I didn't remember and knew very little about. Even thinking about it, my heart seizes up a little. Ken found out some pretty significant things about his brother that he never learned in life (the Publishers Weekly review on Amazon spoils a major one, caveat lector), which only seemed to highlight how much of a stranger his older brother was. It made me wonder about how unknowable we really are to each other. I think it'll have to be one of those books that I'm glad I read but would not enjoy reading again.

1 comment:

Jess said...

I'm glad you're starting to feel better. And I like your philosophy about recommendations.