47 pages 1 hour read

Piers Paul Read


Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1974

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Summary and Study Guide


Alive is a nonfiction book published in 1974 by the British author Piers Paul Read. It is based on the true story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972. The stranded men resorted to cannibalism to survive. The book was adapted into a film of the same name in 1993.

Plot Summary

Rugby first came to Uruguay via a group of Irish priests hired to educate the children of the middle class. The game became linked with the wealthy elite of the cities such as Montevideo, and the Old Christians’ Club team was among the most historical and most famous of all the rugby clubs in Uruguay. In 1972 the members of the club try to organize a trip to Chile. They sell tickets on a charters flight to friends and family members. Among the passengers are wealthy young men, socialist students, middle-aged men and women, and dozens of others.

The flight leaves Uruguay with 40 passengers and five crew members. The course over the Andes mountain is a dangerous one. Due to bad weather, the flight is forced to land in Argentina, where the passengers spend the night. The next day, the plane crashes over the Andes mountains. Many people are killed instantly or in the immediate aftermath of the crash. The body of the plane skids to a halt on a snowy mountainside. Survivors clamber out and survey the situation. They are cold, isolated, and struggling to come to terms with what has happened to them. They huddle together in the plane for warmth.

The next day, the survivors deal with the reality of the situation. Two medical students named Canessa and Zerbino offer what little help they can, but many do not survive. The survivors gather what clothes and food they can. They ration the food and try to protect themselves against the cold. Amid the food scarcity, people begin to consider eating the flesh from the dead bodies which litter the crash site. Nando Parrado is the first to make the suggestion. His mother and sister died as a result of the crash. He desperately wants to return to civilization.

The families and friends of the passengers mount a search for the missing plane. Meanwhile, the survivors realize that they will have to eat human meat to survive long enough to be rescued. They begin to cut meat from the bodies. Many are reluctant but the hunger is overwhelming. The harvesting of human meat becomes another daily chore, like melting snow for water or keeping the inside of the wreckage clean.

One night, an avalanche buries many of the people sleeping inside the wreckage, and the survivors fail to dig everyone out in time. A blizzard rages for days and traps them inside the broken plane with the dead bodies. The survivors decide that they should plan an expedition to civilization. They select their fittest, most determined members and give them extra rations of meat to prepare them for the arduous journey to fetch help. Although these privileges annoy some of the survivors, a fragile social order is maintained by everyone having specific roles and jobs. Not everyone contributes equally which causes resentment.

The survivors wait for the middle of November when the weather will improve with the arrival of summer. Parrado, Canessa, and Vizintin are chosen to make the trip. They set off and soon find the tail end of the plane. After a night camping in the cold, they realize that they will die if they spend too much time exposed to the elements. They return to the other survivors. Another expedition is planned. Meanwhile, the families in Uruguay fly to Chile and refuse to give up the search for the missing plane.

The survivors search for more bodies in the snow as their food becomes scarce. All parts of the body are eaten, including the bone marrow and the brains. They plan another expedition which departs on December 12. Canessa and Parrado climb the nearest mountain and plan out their journey. They send Vizintin back to the others where he uses his rations to bolster their own. They know a long journey lies ahead. A sleeping bag made from the lining of the plane allows them to sleep outside without succumbing to the elements.

Back at the wreckage site, the survivors argue among themselves. Their hopes begin to fade. Although the families of the survivors continue their trip, they place their trust in paranormal advisors and bad witness reports. They continue to lobby the Chilean military for help.

Canessa and Parrado continue their descent down a long valley. They arrive at a river running through a field of flowers and fall to their knees in prayer. As they follow the river, they spot signs of human life. Eventually, they see someone on horseback and try to attract their attention. The next day, they make contact with the people on horses who lead them to a house where they are given food. The authorities and the press arrive. Canessa and Parrado direct them to the men still stuck on the mountain. Rescue helicopters are sent and the men are saved. They are taken to hospitals in Chile where they are treated as local celebrities. The stories of cannibalism cause controversy, but the men explain their decision. The survivors are reunited with their loving families, and a memorial to the dead is installed at the crash site.