Prather’s Pick: “Starry Night” has soul despite tragedy
“Starry Night” by Isabel Suppe is a true story. In 2010, Isabel and her rope-team partner Peter were climbing Ala Izquierda in the Bolivian Andes when they suddenly fell 1,100 feet. Isabel and Peter were severely injured. Isabel survived. Peter didn’t.
The book is “about” Isabel’s struggle to survive the icy conditions with a broken foot and then finally to drag the foot over the ice in order to reach a place where she could send light signals and get help for Peter. It’s about her struggle to walk again following ten surgeries (by the time this book was published and then still more surgeries) and the rehabilitation that followed. Some pages in the book are devoted to her earlier life, too.
That’s what the book is “about,” but it’s so much more.
Just before the introduction to the book, Isabel devoted three pages to “Rebellious Reflections on Genre.” She wrote that her work is more than a “real life story.” She said that everything she has written is true; there are no exaggerations. However, she takes license with classifying the book. Her choice of words, she wrote, can be compared to fiction because they give the book its soul.
So Isabel invites the reader to “borrow my kaleidoscope and to follow.”
As the book begins, Isabel takes the reader back to that day when she and Peter were climbing Ala Izquierda. There were only 50 meters from the summit ridge, but the final part of the face wasn’t in such condition as what they had already climbed. The rock was “bad and brittle and covered with a thin layer of ice, and the conditions were getting worse.”
Isabel had such plans following this climb. She was going to explore the mountains of Bolivia, guide some expeditions, and finally buy a ticket to Kathmandu, to see the Himalayas. But it was not to be.
They fell — 1,100 feet. Isabel recalled her thoughts as she fell and fell. “Against me, I hear explosions, I feel impacts, I wait for the next blow hoping that it will leave me unconscious.”
Then they stopped falling. Isabel found herself on the ice, wet and freezing. Peter was nearby, but he was unconscious, perhaps sleeping. Every time Isabel started to stand, her foot slid out from under her. She had a compound fracture.
The next three days could only be described as horrendous. Isabel fought hypothermia and dehydration. She struggled to get off the ice. Peter finally came to and sat up, but he screamed and flailed his arms. He did not seem to recognize Isabel nor would answer her. Isabel decided to try to each a place where she could send light signals and get some help. Dragging her foot was grueling.
The most powerful point in this book — for me, at least — came during Isabel’s struggle to survive when she looked up at the mountain and found beauty, in spite of everything. The stars were beautiful, too. That’s when Isabel decided to live.
And later, when she was dragging herself along the ice, Isabel thought, “I’m going to continue dragging myself forward all day, today and tomorrow, and if necessary the day after tomorrow as well.”
Perhaps this is an example of the soul in Isabel’s book.
In Chapter IV, “The Beginning,” Isabel wrote about her recovery. After surgery, her foot had 14 screws and two plates. Her foot had six fractures and all of the ligaments were broken. Perhaps the worst problem was a big hole in her foot that had to be cleaned surgically multiple times before it could be closed. There was a question as to whether Isabel would walk again.
But “walk again” she did. Not only that, but Isabel returned to the mountains. She had to get used to climbing with her recovering foot by using high altitude crutches with trekking endings. (The crutches were made by her brother.) While on crutches, she became the first woman to solo climb Nevado de Cachi in the Andes.
Recently, she visited Craig and Steamboat Springs during a bicycle trip from Washington to Boulder.
Isabel has been writing since she her childhood. She speaks five languages. “Starry Night” was written first in Spanish, and then Isabel translated it into English.
This is a powerful book that would be a great choice for a reading discussion group.
“Starry Night” can be found at Downtown Books. It costs $16.50 in soft cover.