The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky by Ken Dornstein
In this stunning, emotionally charged memoir, Dornstein pens a heartbreaking but profoundly hopeful book about finding beauty in the midst of tragedy. Dornstein weaves his own coming-of-age story with that of his brother David, who was killed in the 1988 crash of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
This a book filled with grief. In 1988, Ken Dornstein’s brother, David, died in the plane crash over Lockerbie. An awful bombing, with awful consequences, and this has, naturally, impacted Ken’s life forever.
I picked up this book because Lockerbie was one of those morbidly fascinating things that happen close to home. Something you need to wrap your head around, something horrific happening in a place you’ve been, a place so close, a place which could have been your own had the bomb gone off slightly later. I was desperate to know more.
Yet, instead of a deep dive into the happenings and consequences of the bombing, The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky is more of a memoir encompassing both brothers’ lives. It’s painful to read, full of memories and discoveries which felt like old and new wounds simultaneously. Ken considers his brother’s last moments, his hopes for the future, his ambition to write the Great American Novel. And yet, he fell to earth, landing in some poor woman’s garden, with his personal effects finally being posted over to his family in America.
This is a strange collection of thoughts, with disjointed chronology, odd behaviours, and a multitude of self-deprecating passages. Ken seemed almost to feel guilt at his remaining alive whilst his brother didn’t have this freedom. It’s clear to see the effect the death had on his mental health, then and still. I can only hope writing this novel has helped release some of the grief, and allow some healing to begin.
Despite all this, despite the overload of emotions, the difficult lives the brothers had already led before this catastrophe, the sheer horror of it all, I felt detached somehow. There was something about his writing which left me in the cold, despite my curiosity over Lockerbie, despite my need to learn more, and despite my compassion. I struggled to read through, found it more and more sluggish the more I read. I connected with the emotion, but only partially. I understood the grief, but not entirely. There was something clinically offsetting about the whole thing. I can’t put my finger on it.
Nevertheless, it’s clear The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky is a labour of love, and I respect that. I truly hope both brothers, wherever they are, are at peace.