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When he was found at Tile Island, in the Marshall archipelago, in the middle of the Pacific, Josè Salvador Alvarenga, a Salvadoran fisherman living in Mexico, had spent 438 days adrift on his small fishing boat. Days and nights spent with fear, desperation and deep depression. Days and nights spent in bearing the hunger, the most intense cold and hot but also in fighting to resist, build a world where a whale shark becomes a mate and discover an instinct which will bring him to salvation.
Now, a book by Jonathan Franklin, a journalist of “The Guardian”, titled ” 438 days: An extraordinary true story of survival at sea” tells the story of this wonderful adventure but also the terrible days after the rescue, when many people accused him of cannibalism, suspecting he had eaten the corpse of his companion.
Franklin has laboriously collected the testimony of the castaway, often unable to hold long conversations about his experience, and listened to the opinions of some professional climatologists, doctors and psychologists to reconstruct a story where the chances of survival for a so long period were practically nil.
Josè Salvador Alvarenga, an experienced fisherman, sets off on November 17th 2012 from the fishing village of Costa Azul, in Mexico, accompanied by an appreciated 22-year-old fisherman, Ezequiel Cordoba. Aboard, the necessary fishing equipment, two changes of clothes, an almost discharged radio, a Gps device and some ice.
Shortly after embarking, their are surprised by a very intense storm which obliges José to get rid of all his fishing equipment, about 500 Kg, in the attempt to approach the coast. The two fishermen manage to say their position to rescuers but, few miles from the coast, the motor breaks down and the boat is pushed away.
It is the beginning of 14 dramatic months José has told Franklin in details. His desperate attempt to ask for help, the rainwater collection, his depression and tentation to commit suicide but also his extraordinary skill to manage the boat even in the most violent storms.
Then, the tale of one of the most terrible moments. After two months, Ezequiel Cordoba becomes sick from the raw food and eventually died by refusing to eat.
José is terrified by the idea of being left alone and, for days, he acts like nothing has happened. He continues to speak to the companion as if he is still alive, he comforts and spurs him. Then, his mind surrenders to reality. He throws his friend’s corpse in the sea and he faints.
It is the beginning of a new phase, where birds and fish become their new partners.
His human and psychological story, the hardness of his return and fight against calumnies, his incredible survival have been passionately told by the English journalist, who has been impressed by his story and will to live. “Spending some time with José – said Franklin, has been an adventure and a lesson I’ll never forget!”.