Book Review: Alive!

by Wes Clark

Alive, by Piers Paul Reid; J.B. Lippincott, 1974, 352 p.

Did you ever see the "Rugby Players Eat Their Dead" bumper sticker? This is where it comes from.

As many of you know, it's the story of how members of the Old Christians Rugby Club (a part of the Stella Maris Catholic college in Montevideo, Uruguay) and others survived for ten weeks from October to December 1972 on a particularly desolate part of the Andes mountain range. Traveling from Uruguay to Chile for a rugby match, their plane went down killing the crew and stranding the passengers. 45 passengers start the trip, 16 survive. Alive is one of the most riveting books I have ever read; it's also one of the most ghastly. My good wife, a woman of gentle sensibilities, refuses to read it - not only that, she refuses to discuss it with me or to even proofread this review! (Needless to say, she refused to watch the movie on videotape.)

Put yourself in their place: bitter, winter cold, snow and blizzards, no place to sleep except a crowded broken up airplane fuselage and no proper clothes. The white airplane is practically invisible to overhead searchers. Badly injured people all over the place, and the high altitude and thin air make major physical efforts exhausting. What next? They find out by a transistor radio that the authorities have given up searching - and then a sudden avalanche kills off many of the remaining, both injured and whole. (About the only "good" thing that can be said about this last tragedy is that it provided more meat and fewer diners.)

And, inevitably, the cannibalism. Talk about your extreme circumstances, these people find themselves having to dine on one another. (In the process finding unique food storage uses for rugby socks while on expeditions.) Muscle, fat, internal organs, brains, rancid flesh, testicles - you name it, all are consumed for survival, and are described in the book along with some descriptions of taste. It simply boggles the mind. Can you imagine the same thing happening to your club? Flanker flambe? Winger au vin? Scrum-half a la mode, or Heaven help us, Prop au jus? Geez.

Roger Ebert, reviewing the Disney (Touchstone) movie derived from this book, wrote "There are some stories you simply can't tell." Another reviewer wrote, "To some, cannibalism among the likes of Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano and other poster boys may be a feast to savor. Would those people please never make themselves known to me?" Yet another wrote: "Let's face it, Alive is one big, bad idea... it's not easy holding down your Goobers." Ebert's comment also applies to reviewing the book; if you're interested you're just going to have to read this one and, like me, be thankful for your modern home amenities, air conditioned car, options and full tummy.

The movie: I thought the hardest thing to watch in the film was the airplane crash-landing sequence, which seems very realistic. (It will certainly stay with me whenever I board a plane...) The meat-eating parts of the film are generally handled tastefully - no pun intended. And the actors didn't look very poster-boyish to me. The cinematography was excellent - those shots of the mountains make the ten day hike across them seem superhuman.

If you just can't get enough of Alive, click here to read another Alive-related article. Or, click here to read about... the tofu leg!