Sunday, July 19, 2015

Deep Down Dark

Book: Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and The Miracle That Set Them Free
Author:Hector Tobar
Edition:eBook read on Overdrive from the Fresno County Public Library
Read:July 19, 2015
504 pages
Genre:  History,  Biography
Rated: 3 1/2  out of 5

This book follows the lives of many of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean miner for 69 days. Tobar  gives a brief history of many of the miners, enough so you can understand the type of men who works in these mines. There are three sections to this book:
  1. talks about the miners and what the mine looked and sounded like leading up to the cave-in, along with the first 18 days after the cave-in.
  2. once contact was made, there was a period of 51 days where the men could do nothing but wait and receive food and water and messages.
  3. once a hole wide enough was made, Tobar finishes with what happened to the men.


There are lessons in leadership, particularly when the miners are first trapped. The head positional person tries to create unity by saying we are all equals. There is two problem with that: First, people naturally do want someone to look forward to in times of crisis, and secondly, people, particularly in crisis, will resort to the law of dogs. The one who us biggest, who can bark the loudest wins. But several others did step up and endorsed his appeal for unity. But throughout the book, there is this tension of who is leading.

Sometimes knowledge does need to be shaded so that panic does not take place. In this case, the shift supervisor looks weak, but is able to talk bluntly without causing panic.

Sometimes our appetites gets in the way of reasoned thinking. This is most evident when some of the miners break into a food cabinet on the first day because they are hungry. Their thinking is we will be getting out soon. But it is this absence of food which comes close to  killing them off through starvation. The power of thinking over appetite is one of the things which separates us from animals.

The sense of divine plays throughout this book. A miner realizes that despite the odds, not one person was killed n the collapse of the mine. For the  most part, these miners are what you would expect: a group of men  who are not particularly concerned about religion or morals. Most are Catholics. One is a Jehovah a Witness. Another is an Evangelical. These two lend spiritual stability to the group. Mario, the Jehovah Witness asks Jose Henriquez, the Evangelical, to lead prayers for the group. He is now known as the Pastor. This is a time of union for all 33 of the men. It is not just a God bless us, but a call for confession, a call for humility a call to honor God. But does it change the men. It at least gets them through the days of darkness and solitude. One of the miners notes that in prayer each man looked taller. This is a lessen to be learned-by going down on our knees, we grow taller.

As the men are found there is discord, some believe the Virgin Mary is what saved them, others think God, and others do not think of salvation in that way.

Interesting, after the men are released from the mine, the Evangelicals try to make Jose Henriquez a hero and build him up. But realizes that it is not him who is a hero. God has shown mercy and had them rescued them because they showed humility. Along the same lines, he realizes that even though below he was called The Pastor, he sees the people who are pastors as having a calling in that direction, one he does not have. So he is content to recede into the background.

Tabor shows the lives of not only the men below, but the women above. The anxiety of waiting, odd occurrences which gets described as paranormal.. But also the complicated relationship between girl friends and wives, .... At first there is the focus on the men. But as money comes into play, there is a dividing line.

The company owners just trying to keep the family business going, but not really understanding mining or even the process of running a company. Also not prepared for disaster, either in planning or mentally. It is that mental weakness which puts them on the sidelines in this story. They are shell shocked that this could happen and do nothing.

Surprisingly who shines are the governmental officials. Yes they are calculating. But they also know how to get things done. The mining minister shows compassion and focus' the government on the situation The president sends in his fix-it man which understands how to get things done. They are the ones who get the rescue started and coordinates the effort. Of course, being politicians, they want their time in the spotlight and they have the tools to make this happen. I think they are moved by compassion, but not just compassion but a calculation to make them look good.

If you are being rescued, what is it that you need first? Obviously medical aid. In this case, it a government official telling the men what they mean to the nation. In some ways, this is what the men need. That their survival has meaning. This gets reflected by the excitement this causes. The dark side of this is it turns into greed and the striving for fame. In the end, see the last paragraph, it is part of the men's search for meaning-their suffering does have meaning.

Money complicates relations both inside and outside the mine. The miners got temporary fame and a lot of money, at least according to Chilean standards. There is a video showing the situation five years after. Most men have mental problems. By now the money has run out. These men are back working or unemployed. Those who work, seem to have fared better than those who do not.

When there was no hope of getting out of the mine, the men were united in spirit, their struggles, their troubles. Once there was hope in getting out, they started arguing, acting independent. They each tried to be the leader, the one who the show was about. Why is that? We each have this desire to be top dog.

As an American, we forget that we are not the only ones with intelligence, with spirit. We are one of many peoples. It takes an international effort to rescue the men-not just an American, nor a Chilean. All have reason for pride.

Life in a fishbowl. As they watch sports the world is watching them. Even those who seek this, the price paid for attention is large. For these normal mean, the price is beyond what they can pay.

The movie Patton ends with the phrase, "glory is fleeting". One of the miners, Franklin Lobos, has had experience with this. He was part of the Chilean National Futbol team. As such, he knew what it was to be recognized and honored. Also, what the loss of fame was like once you were out of the news. Why else would he have been in the mines? He knew the sweetness of fame and the bitterness when it leaves. It is an unforgiving mistress.  He knows what is ahead for his fellow miners. The heady accolades followed by the loss.

As the miners are about escape from their long imprisonment, they start to wonder where the bonds of their agreement to tell their stories together starts and ends. Illanes says it the best to be united. He says let's be clear. You don't have anything down here that is just yours. Nothing. Are you going to tell me that if we through you down here for weeks a cleft you completely alone, and then we came to rescue you, we'd find you as fine and dandy as you are now? (409). This is the best statement in the book. It shows a togetherness with all the miners, a dependence each has on each other. This can also be said of those of us above. We each have an interdependency on each other. We, just are not I. They have the circumstances to recognize it.

It is after the escape from the mine is the most moving and heart-wretching of all of the parts of the book. After the forced detox of being trapped in the mine, several have fallen prey to alcohol and drugs. Most still had constant nightmares. Most have run through the money received, while big by Chilean standards is not endless. But the biggest thing is the expectations placed upon these men. They insist they are not super-men, but are normal men. And they are. Most have not faced fame nor the fortune which came their way. They mismanage the money. But they do not see how the fame is pushing them into paths which are destructive to their beings.

Victor Zamora walks down that road. When Tobar first finds him, he is desperate for money. He has wrecked cars in his front yard from blacking out. Later on there Tobar finds a confidence in Zomora. But their is a pretty astute statement which Tobar makes about Zamora-he begins to understand how he can shape his mine memories into something that makes him a better father and husband. This starts to bring him on the road to recovery. This is true of all of us. We all share in some experience which bends and warps us-maybe not to the extent which the miners do. But how we think about it makes a difference in us. The Tutu's say a similar thing about forgiveness.

Also having company, wise companionship is essential as well. Another of the miners is single, and young. He notes that it is a mistake to be alone and not having something to occupy his time. One of my favorite sayings is that nature abhors a vacuum. Whether it is a clean house getting dirty or an empty time schedule, something will fill it. It takes work to keep one going.

There is a basic human question another miner, Juan Carlos Aguilar, asks as he wonders about surviving the mine collapse, What am I supposed to do with this? Is it enough just to have survived, experienced the good things of life for a little while? Or am I to build on this for something greater, for a more goodness among others? His answer is for others. But this question can be asked of us all? Why have I experienced anything? Is it just for myself? For others? How we respond says who we are.

I look at a book, particularly a true one like this one, in three ways: does the author tell the story well and memorable? Is the story compelling? What do I learn from it?

Does the Tobar tell the story well? Yes, but more in a matter of fact way. He does not get in the way of the story, which is important, but neither does he contribute to it. In many ways, it reads as an extended newspaper article, something you are glad to know, but leaves very little imprint on you. I do not get the sense of particular insight-fullness into my life.

But the story is compelling. You know what the outcome is-the title gives it away. But you feel the lives and feelings of the 33 miners during this time is the story, along with the rescue attempt. The best part, and most depressing, is the after rescue experience. How the lives of many of the men are shattered. Here I think Tobar does well. It is not a happy lived afterwards, but the struggles of these men to make sense and live with what happened to them.

Should you read this book? Yes, if for nothing else, to see what a person can go through, how to live under those stressful conditions. But do not expect a lot more than a good story of normal men put into an unusual situation.

New Words:
  • Borborygmus (204): a rumbling or gurgling noise made by the movement of fluid and gas in the intestines.
  • Simulacrum (393): an image or representation of someone or something.  an unsatisfactory imitation or substitute.

Book References:
  • Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

Good Quotes:
  • First Line:The San Jose Mine is located inside a round, rocky, and lifeless mountain in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
  • Last Line: "And here I am," he says
  •  He's never traveled beyond the valleys around Copiago, but he is rich in family and a growing circle of relatives takes residence in his sorrowful thoughts. (204).
  • Ambition changes people. (410) Luis Urzua
  • If you make a man a symbol of things that are bigger  than any one person can possibly be, you risk stripping that man of his sense of who he really is. (450) Thoughts of the psychologist Alberto Iturra.

Table of Contents:
  • Cities in the desert
  • Beneath the mountain of thunder and sorrow.
    • A company man
    • The end of everything
    • The dinner hour
    • "I'm always hungry"
    • Red alert!
    • "We have sinned"
    • Blessed among women
    • A flickering flame
    • Cavern of dreams  
  • Seeing the devil
    • The speed of sound
    • Christmas
    • Astronauts
    • Absolute leader
    • Cowboys
    • Saints, statues, Satan
    • Independence Day
    • Rebirth 
  •  The Southern Cross
    • In a better country
    • The tallest tower
    • Underground
    • Under the stars.


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