Monday, January 09, 2017

When I Fell from the Sky by Juliane Koepcke


On Christmas Eve 1971, seventeen year old, Juliane Koepcke, boarded a plane with her mother in Peru.  They were taking a short flight so they could spend Christmas and New Year's with Juliane's father.  As the small, overbooked flight was making it's descent, it flew into a large thunderstorm.  The plane broke apart in midair.  Juliane, still strapped into her seat, fell two miles out of the sky and landed in the middle of the rain forest.  Then, with a broken collarbone, a torn ligament in her knee, and a couple gashes which would later become infected, she walked and swam for 11 days in the uninhabited jungle until she saw living human beings again.

That is the gist of the blurb written on the back of this book and it was enough to grab me.  I showed the book to every coworker in my library.  Each time I would read the back cover as though I were relaying a secret.  She fell two miles.  She survived 11 days in the rain forest.  It doesn't read like an heroic adventure story.  The book is translated from German and often reads that way but it doesn't take away from it.  The story is so incredible that poetic embellishment is unnecessary.  There are several chapters devoted to the crash and Juliane's time making it through the jungle but that is not the majority of the book.  Though, the specter of the crash is present throughout.  When I Fell from the Sky is Juliane Koepcke's life story and the crash altered her life significantly but it is not the entirety of who she is.  Even without the crash, she could have written a book about her life.  She was born and raised in Peru by German biologist parents who set up a research station in the remote Peruvian jungle.  Her mother received her doctorate at a time when that was unheard of for a single woman.  The story of her father traveling to Peru from post-WWII Germany without a passport could be a book all by itself.  Juliane had already led an interesting life before that crash, it's just that the tragic event on that day is the conversation starter.  And what a conversation it is.

If you like this book, you might also like Between a Rock and a Hard Place, available from the Virginia Beach Public Library.  (You might also like the documentary about this story directed by Werner Herzog but it isn't widely available commercially so the library doesn't have it but it's online and I'm sure you can find it, super sleuth that you are.)

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