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The Jewish Journal: "Three who survived to tell their tales."

Date: Apr 20 2010

Adventure has always provided the raw material for great books, ranging from “Robinson Crusoe” to “Alive” and much in between. That’s why I was thrilled to be asked to moderate a panel on “Stories of Survival” at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA on the weekend of April 24-25, 2010.

The panelists are all authors of recently published books about how the danger they endured and how they lived to tell about it. A couple of them confront us with the human face of terrorism in exotic locales, and the third one shows us that life-and-death ordeals can take place very close to home. From the comfort and safety of a UCLA lecture hall, we will witness three sagas of survival.

Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s “Days of Fear: A Firsthand Account of Captivity Under the New Taliban” (Europa Editions: $15.00) (Translated by Michael Reynolds) is the story of the Italian reporter’s ordeal at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2007.  At the worst moment of his captivity, the author was forced to witness the decapitation of his Afghan driver by their captors.  “Many consider this episode merely a terrible and bloody story,” writes Mastrogiacomo about his long confinement and ultimate liberation. “I prefer to remember it as an experience that cast me down into the depths of my soul, made me stronger, more convinced of the vital importance of many things: my relationships with loved ones, life’s small everyday moments, basic human values, my profession.”

Richard Phillips is the author (with Stephan Talty) of “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea” ( Hyperion: $25.99).  Readers will remember his heroic exploits as the captain of a U.S. cargo ship that came under attack by Somali pirates and his rescue on the high seas by Navy commandoes.  “When someone has a loaded AK-47 pointed at your face, you get to know his mood really well, believe me,” recalls Philips about one moment of peril in the waters of the Indian Ocean. “They wanted me to stretch out. No goddamn way, I said to myself. I’m not going to be your fatted calf.”

The third panelist is Norman Ollestad, author of “Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival” (Ecco: $25.99), an adventure story that takes place no farther away than the San Gabriel Mountains.  As a young surfer and skier, Ollestad was flying to a championship ceremony with his father in 1979 when their chartered Cessna crashed into a mountaintop during a sudden blizzard. His father was killed in the crash, and the 11-year-old boy was forced to make his own way to safety from the ice-bound peak. “As much a thriller as a memoir,” wrote Carolyn See in praise of Ollestad’s book.

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