Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free
by Héctor Tobar
“A riveting account of a remarkable disaster.” —Larry Getlan, The New York Post
“Deep Down Dark” was a recent NPR Book Club selection. Go to this link for an interesting Q&A session with the author, Héctor Tobar: http://www.npr.org/2015/01/20/377462181/book-club-hector-tobar-answers-your-questions-about-deep-down-dark
1. In her Musing blog, the award-winning author Ann Patchett described why Deep Down Dark was the best book she read in 2014, leading her to choose it as the first book club selection for NPR’s Morning Edition. “It is a masterpiece of compassion,” she wrote. “You know the story—33 men were buried in a spectacular mine collapse, stayed underground for two months, and then were rescued, all of them unharmed. But how do you write that book? We know what happens in the end… and yet… Tobar makes the story riveting. He puts us down there with those men. He examines all the big questions: the value of life, faith, hope, despair, and resurrection.”
What do you think of this assessment? Did Tobar make the story, one where we know the ending, interesting? Did you feel for the miners?
2. Tobar makes the decision to include some personal stories about the miners. For examine, Yonni Barrios, the miner with mistress. Was this a good decision? What about the privacy interests of the miners?
3. Since the rescue, the group has remained united in some ways, yet are divided in many ways. For instance, shift boss Luis was removed from leadership of the association the miners created. What do you think about Urzúa’s decision to abandon leadership and take of his white helmet after the cave-in (“We are equal now. . .There are no bosses and employees”)?
4. A movie starring Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche is due to come out late this summer. How do you feel the story will translate to the movie screen?
5. The prologue to Deep Down Dark describes the incredibly long commutes made by employees to reach the remote San José Mine. No local jobs paid as well, so the pay was an incentive for miners such as Franklin Lobos, signing on at age fifty-two to help pay his daughter’s college tuition. Jessica Chilla refused to kiss Darío Segovia goodbye on the morning of August 5 because he chose the high pay despite the dangers, and because the job would cause them to postpone their daughter’s birthday party. What risks and personal sacrifices would you be willing to endure for a high wage?
6. What new information did you gain about those sixty-nine days of survival? What details did Deep Down Dark provide that were absent from the 2010 media blitz?
7. There are many types of hunger described in the book, starting of course with hunger for food. Would you have been a food-box looter, or would you have complied with Mario Sepúlveda’s calculations? What did you learn about the physiology of starvation, and the dangerous process of refueling an emaciated body? What other cravings did the miners face, deprived of power, their families, and a way out? What would your coping strategies have been?
8. The story brings to mind the old adage that “there are no atheists in fox holes.” The closing line of chapter 9, “Cavern of Dreams,” is a quote from José Henríquez, the informal pastor, after the pipe and drill bit broke through: “‘Dios existe,’ he says. God exists.” Do you attribute the rescue to human ingenuity, divine intervention, or a combination of the two? What is your definition of a miracle?
9. In the aftermath of the rescue, some of the men refused pensions and even returned to mining, despite terrifying flashbacks. Víctor Zamora, who was difficult for the author to track down, was once homeless and, for a time, returns to a broken and destitute life. Edison Peña battles alcoholism. Others celebrate fatherhood, while still others focus on capitalizing on their experience. What determines whether survivors can find meaning in their lives, sustained by hope?