Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free Jose B. Gonzalez Special to CTLatinoNews
by Hector Tobar
Hector Tobar’s Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free is everything that a well-researched book should be. The 2010 disaster in which thirty-three miners were trapped for sixty-nine days, was covered by international media, yet that coverage at times was sensationalized if not inaccurate. Having interviewed all miners, and having investigated the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the mine, the Pulitzer-prize winning author was able to paint a fuller and haunting picture of the hellish conditions these men had to withstand in order to survive. Tobar provides us with insight into how rescuers and experts from all over the world were able to come together and solve the complex puzzle of how to save the miners.
As we get to know the miners and their families, we are not quite sure who the heroes are, and that is in part because it’s clear from the beginning of the saga that no training could possibly prepare anyone for this kind of emergency. The men found ways to cope as much as possible with such dire issues as starvation and the lack of both sufficient oxygen and nutrition. As Tobar describes it, “Several are beginning to experience one strange, unexpected side effect of prolonged hunger that’s been noted again and again by people who fast for a week or more: When they sleep their dreams and nightmares are unusually, long, vivid, and lucid … Deprived of sustenance, their brains take the men to places of memory and desire, mind dramas crafted from the material of their personal histories, with a cast drawn from their families and loved ones” (142). Eventually, the men begin to confront the reality that they are likely to die. And this is the biggest strength of the narrative–it provides us with a detailed, chilling look at near-death and desperation.
The rescuers understand the mission’s urgency, and they experience many failures long before reaching the men. Adding to their frustration is the obvious dilemma: the faster they work, the more careless the process can be: “they combine their collective knowledge of the science of topography and the craft of drilling to reach a critical decision: They will drill very slowly, sacrificing speed for accuracy” (143). Along the way, they have tantalizing near-misses, all the while not knowing whether the men are alive or whether they will even find any trace of them. Faith becomes just as important as technical knowledge.
There is an obvious reason why Deep Down Dark made many “Best of” lists in 2014. Tobar’s descriptions of the psychological and emotional infernos in that mine are enough to make readers relive traumatic nightmares. The end of the book focuses on the men’s lives after the rescues, leaving the impression that for the men, the saga hasn’t ended. And likewise, readers will find themselves reliving the sense of being trapped deep down, in a horrifying darkness.
Jose B. Gonzalez is a professor of literature at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. A Fullbright scholar, he is the recipient of numerous literary awards. He can be reached at www.LatinoStories.com