Book Club: Hector Tobar Answers Your Questions About 'Deep Down Dark' Tobar says it was a "great honor" to interview the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010. They lived "one of the great adventure stories of the 21st century," he says.
NPR logo

Book Club: Hector Tobar Answers Your Questions About 'Deep Down Dark'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Book Club: Hector Tobar Answers Your Questions About 'Deep Down Dark'

Book Club: Hector Tobar Answers Your Questions About 'Deep Down Dark'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We're pretty excited about our new book club. It's called Morning Reads, and our colleague David Greene is getting the conversation started with a story of survival that took place in 2010.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: That's when 33 miners were trapped beneath the ground in Chile for 69 days. They battled starvation. They were isolated. They didn't know if they would live.


MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Tonight is the night at the San Jose Mine. Rescue efforts are set to begin for 33 men who've been trapped...

GREENE: Somehow they were rescued, all of them. One by one, they were brought to the surface through a narrow hole that had been drilled. Their country was elated.


GREENE: Their story is captured in a book by journalist Hector Tobar, and it's the first pick for Morning Reads, the book club we're holding for the first time today. A few weeks ago, we were joined by Ann Patchett, author and owner of an independent bookstore in Nashville, and we asked Ann to choose our first book. This was it - it's called "Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories Of 33 Men Buried In A Chilean Mine, And The Miracle That Set Them Free."

ANN PATCHETT: The subtitle says it all. It's a riveting story. It was an amazing story in the news. A mine in Chile collapsed, trapping these 33 men, and there was a heroic effort, kind of a miracle of tenacity and science that rescued these men. But the real reason that I chose the book was because of Hector and his writing. He just did such an astonishing job - hands-down my favorite book of the year.

GREENE: And there's a pretty amazing story behind the book. The 33 miners, while fighting for their lives underground, decided to make a pact - if they lived, they'd work together and recount the events to just one person. They were eventually put in touch with Hector Tobar, a Pulitzer prize-winning Latin American writer.

HECTOR TOBAR: I spent my whole life as a writer talking to just the average guy in Los Angeles and Latin America, talking to working people. And I thought, man, these guys must have an epic story to tell. It never occurred to me, however, that somehow this story would end up in my lap. It was just the journalistic project of my life.

GREENE: And today we have Hector Tobar and Ann Patchett with us. Welcome both of you to our book club.

PATCHETT: Thank you.

TOBAR: Thanks.

GREENE: And you're with us as well, even if you haven't read the book. Over the past month, some of you submitted questions to us, including about the miners' privacy under the media glare. The world learned that one miner had a mistress. She and his wife would come to the mine, praying for his survival. And that made listener Kelli Delaney from Billings, Montana, wonder...

KELLI DELANEY: Mr. Tobar, do we need to know everything about the miners the public wants to know? But is it our right to know everything?

GREENE: Did you feel, Hector, that you included too much about their personal stories in some cases?

TOBAR: Well, in the case of the married miner with the mistress, Yonni Barrios, already that story had been out in public for years. It was not a good thing for Yonni Barrios to be subjected to this media onslaught. It was terrible, actually contributed to Yonni's post-traumatic stress after getting out of the mine. But on the other hand, the book is about these men with these complicated lives. Now that we can stand back several years later and tell their story, it's really about the complete person who went in, and they were flawed individuals.

GREENE: Ann Patchett, if Hector had held back, not given so many personal details, could this have been the same book?

PATCHETT: It would've been the Encyclopedia Britannica if he hadn't.


PATCHETT: As somebody who is a writer, Hector did hold back, I'm sure, more than we can possibly imagine.

GREENE: Is that true, Hector?

TOBAR: There some things I did not put in, yeah.

PATCHETT: I mean, there's such restraint in this book. It's not a long book.

GREENE: Well, let's get to another question.

RICK HUDSON: My name is Rick Hudson (ph). I'm from Charlotte, North Carolina. My question really was that, you know, when you have 33 different people you're getting interviews from, and then on top of that you got all these families, and you've got the politicians and the mine owners - how do you take all that information and weave that story together?

GREENE: Hector?

TOBAR: Well, you know, when I was in Chile, I would do seven to 10 hours of interviews in a day. And at the end of each day, I would make a list of the best stories I heard that day, the most colorful images, the most emotional moments - Mario sees the devil, Yonni's mistress feels his presence in their home - all those moments together, they became the heart of the book.

GREENE: I think, Ann, you have a question from Luis Lee (ph) in Sacramento, right? You want to read that for us?

PATCHETT: Sure. And she asked on Facebook, number one, is the San Jose Mine still open for business? That's a good question. And, two, have the safety requirements for mines and miners changed for the better in Chile and for the rest of the mining communities worldwide after this incident?

GREENE: That's a good question. Hector?

TOBAR: The San Jose Mine is closed and will remain closed for the rest of eternity. All the things that the men left behind are in this time capsule that may actually never be opened because it's a very dangerous place.

GREENE: Hector, what's it like to go to that mine - the San Jose Mine - now that it's closed?

TOBAR: Well, you know, it's about an hour outside of the town of Copiapo, so no one really ever goes there. It's really desolate and lonely. The mouth of the mine looks like the mouth of a monster. So it's a very haunting, dark place. As far as mining safety, as a result of the accident, the mining safety agency in Chile had a thorough housecleaning. They fired the top three officials. So mining safety in Chile has definitely improve; however, mining continues to be an extremely dangerous activity.

GREENE: OK. Let's take a listen here to our last listener question.

AMY ABANDRAPH: Hi. I'm Amy Abandraph (ph) from Missoula, Montana. I'm wondering about the lives of the miners now. Have those groups that jelled together inside the mine remained close?

TOBAR: Well, in some ways the miners will always be united because they're the only 33 people on Earth who know exactly what they went through - to be trapped, buried alive, to see death, and to feel that your death is imminent. And then to be transported into this media circus and to have the world call you a hero and to visit Jerusalem and Disney World just after you've been trapped, no one else has been through that. So they will always be united by that. And they have reunions every once in a while.

At the same time, they are definitely still divided in many ways, and there are still many strong personality clashes. But still, I think that they are joined in this brotherhood that will last for the rest of their lives.

GREENE: Hector Tobar, thanks so much for bringing your book to our book club and for joining us. We really appreciate it.

TOBAR: Thanks so much for having me.

GREENE: And Ann Patchett, thank you for picking such a great book for our first read.

PATCHETT: It's such a pleasure.

GREENE: We will have the next pick for Morning Reads soon, so stay tuned.

MONTAGNE: And it's clear MORNING EDITION knows how to pick them. Yesterday "Deep Down Dark" was named as one of the five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction. This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.