four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
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0

A True Story

A-TheBoyWhoFellOutOfTheSkyBefore 9/11, there was Lockerbie, Scotland. When Libyan terrorists brought down Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988, 258 passengers fell six miles to the ground of that small town. One of the victims, David Dornstein, a 25-year-old aspiring writer, left behind a younger brother, Ken. Nearly two decades later, Ken uses his brother’s notebooks and diaries to reconstruct—and in many ways, to relive—the life that was cut short. The author interviews David’s college roommates and friends, the detectives working on the case, and David’s former lovers (one of whom, in a twist as bizarre as it is ironic, he marries himself). He also visits the crash site and pores over the inexhaustible information generated by the tragedy, all in an attempt to resurrect his brother and quell his own demons.
Random House. 304 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0375503595

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"In this case the author’s struggle to come to grips with his own demons … makes for only intermittently interesting reading, but that doesn’t matter because of the book’s larger triumph: the vivid portrait of a singular young man that emerges in its pages. … By the time you finish it, this is a hugely satisfying book." Daniel Akst

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"For the reader, jumping back and forth between David’s journals and Ken’s story is wrenching. … Ken’s clear-eyed and unsentimental account of how he stopped his fall just short of impact is a remarkable story." James F. Sweeney

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"This is grief presented not as a momentary matter of tears but as a fishhook that tugs at the lip for years. … This book isn’t easy reading, and it’s not for those looking for neat resolutions, but Dornstein has written an unflinching, graceful portrait of grief and the hope that comes after it." Matt Eagan

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"A story that is all the more sad and gripping for its author’s almost impassive approach to its telling, and for his refusal to wallow or romanticize. … Dornstein follows a pretty basic template for this elegiac memoir, but he succeeds precisely because he eschews melodrama and oversimplification in favor of a fairly straight, modest, and often conflicted recounting." Brad Zellar

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What is fascinating—and at times frustrating—about Dornstein’s journey is his somewhat detached perspective, as if he is a detective reporting on his own history rather than someone haunted by it. … Without an ounce of self-pity or melodrama, he writes with razor-sharp clarity and realizes, as we do, how the chapters are a testament to the enormous love between these two brothers." Marian Fontana

Critical Summary

Because of the profoundly tragic inspiration for the book, Dornstein errs on the side of restraint; he maintains an objective, even distanced, attitude toward the death of his older brother. Critics generally praise Dornstein for that approach, and the result is a poignant examination of two intertwined lives. Despite the emotional toll that his brother’s death and the subsequent rebuilding process take on him, Dornstein reconciles the complexities of his relationship with David while offering a fitting tribute to his life. The memoir has been compared to similar efforts by Germaine Greer (Daddy, We Hardly Knew You), Geoffrey Wolfe (Duke of Deception), and Fergus Bordewich (My Mother’s Ghost) in its warts-and-all scrutiny of the hidden life that suddenly becomes the writer’s obsession.