In her debut, Herfkens tells the story of being the only survivor of a 1992 small-plane crash in Vietnam.
The author was reluctant to board a small plane with Willem, her boyfriend of 13 years, because of her claustrophobia. But her situation became more desperate than she could have imagined: The plane crashed in the jungle, killing her fiance and leaving her all alone—and, due to injuries, barely able to move. She survived on rainwater for eight days before she was finally rescued, but resuming her life in the wake of the tragedy proved to be just as much of a struggle. Throughout this memoir, the author employs an effective style: The story unfolds chronologically, intercut with earlier events—her days in the jungle, for example, are juxtaposed with her budding romance with Willem and her college internship in Chile. This device intermittently relieves the tension of her harrowing time in the jungle, which was marked by endless pain. It also makes the story more poignant by showing Willem and Annette’s plans for a future, including the possibility of marriage. She uses the same technique with equal potency later, when she returns to the crash site in 2005, a cathartic decision offset by the circumstances of her home life; at the time, she and her husband were unemployed and raising an autistic child. At one point, the author cites her preference for simply telling her story and letting readers interpret it on their own, and she does this with dexterity, memorably describing experiences such as lying in the wrecked plane and seeing her exposed shin bone, “[l]ike a page in a biology book.” The book is also filled with inspiring, encouraging moments, as when Jaime, her friend and colleague, heads for Vietnam to find her; he refuses to take dental records to potentially identify a body and instead takes her hairbrush. “She might need it,” he says. Overall, the author offers a great deal of relatable insight into her experience, at one point stating quite profoundly: “Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have.”
A moving tale of physical and psychological survival.