An American helicopter pilot recounts his first year flying over the jungles of India.
Sobotta’s debut memoir kicks off on a Korean-owned fishing boat in the southwestern Pacific, where he flies a helicopter to aid the crew in its hunt for tuna. But poor safety standards and slapdash repairs to his aircraft make him uneasy, and he enthusiastically leaves the sea behind to take a job flying for paramilitary units in eastern India despite his new employers’ upfront warnings of the possible danger. An accomplished aviator, Sobotta thrives in the South Asian air, his time split among transporting soldiers, businessmen, and other VIPs; providing lifesaving airlifts to injured and sick soldiers; and doing reconnaissance work. The challenges are many, from navigating above long stretches of isolated jungle to weathering the heavy rains of the monsoon season and being fired upon by Maoist-Naxalite insurgents. His time on the ground becomes more difficult in its way—the constant stream of scorchingly spicy food, laxness of local hygiene, and eager mosquitoes often leave him feeling ill. Yet, while clearly uncomfortable with his rapid immersion, the expat pilot takes these trials remarkably in stride, an attitude that allows for great exploration, particularly with the beautiful and restless 30-something girl-next-door, Anika. The memoir is a wellspring of humor, with the author’s penchant for the occasional puns and corny jokes endearing and entertaining even when worthy of an eye-roll. Rejecting the tired trope of foreign exoticness, the narrative focuses instead on the author’s adventures and time between them. The book excels at balance: for instance, those interested in flying a helicopter will get a crash course in not crashing without being bored by constant technical intricacies. And while the humor will likely be the work’s most memorable feature, it shows a knack for pathos as well, from capturing the fear of undisciplined jungle soldiers to recalling the smell of gore inside Sobotta’s cockpit. As in the best memoirs, the author understands the need for complete candidness; he’s not afraid to share embarrassing anecdotes of drunken outings or scatological assaults from the eager bladders of India’s cows.
Exuberant—and funny—without neglecting the seriousness of surviving a year of love and war.