War victim stories can be uplifting, as is the case with "Saving Eagle Mitch." Like the film "Saving Private Ryan," this adventure has its limitations, but like the movie it also opens the mind to the possibilities of what a concerted human effort can bring about over the long run.
In this story the hero is -- as the title suggests -- a bird.
Barbara Chepaitis, the author of the book, is also its heroine although she might not think of herself in that exact term. She has been involved in the rescue of birds -- mostly without success -- for a while and it was that humane interest that brought her into the plot-mix in this case.
After reading the book I found it hard to believe that her losses could possibly ever out-weigh her triumphs. She is devoted to her cause and is knowledgeable and concerned as well.
This story is about the rescue of a steppe eagle that has been shot through the wing in Afghanistan and the naval SEAL and an army ranger who find him and try to nurse him back to health during their last stints overseas.
Living in a battle zone with a caged, injured raptor, the two men search for a way to bring the bird home to America and find him a place of refuge. This is where Chepaitis comes into the story.
Through the Internet, the soldiers discover the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Petersburg, N.Y., and, again, through the defined interest of the sanctuary's creator, Pete Dubacher, Chepaitis is brought in as the American advocate for the cause of saving Mitch, the eagle.
A professor of creative writing at SUNY/Albany, Chepaitis, who is a visiting professor at Western State College of Colorado this year, was the author in 2010 of "Feathers of Hope: Pete Dubacher, the Berkshire Bird Paradise, and the Human Connection with Birds."
Early in this new short and intense book the story shifts from saving the bird to saving the woman. She is the most clearly defined personality in the story because it is her story. Her involvement at every stage of this effort is monumental.
Chepaitis's storytelling skills are equal to the task at hand. There is a vividness to her recounting telephone, mail and email exchanges. Her newly forged relationship with Sen. U.S. Charles Schumer, her discovery of unlikely allies in government departments, her friendship with officials and her encouragement by her students all play into the major moments. Even the unlikely cooperation of complete strangers with airplanes boosts the tale into new realms of realistic hoopla.
Her time with her creative writing classes adds new dimensions to the story.
What emerges from this book's tight narrative is an understanding of the global role we all play in our day-to-day activities through the connections we forge on the Internet. Gone is that age-old separation. Replacing it is a new global neighborhood.
While the story of Eagle Mitch and the red-tape, paperwork, hostility and frustration connected with him is at the center of the piece, the framework is this new concept of worldliness.
The author is clearly a fan of silent movie serials, though. Each chapter ends with a cliff-hanger.
"And for the first time, I would have a cell phone, something that would turn out to be crucial in the weeks ahead, as it became clear that export papers were a lot more difficult to come by than our optimism made us believe," ends Chapter Seven;
"... even while I celebrated the latest victory, I waited for the next set of obstacles that would surely come our way. In this, I wasn't disappointed," ends Chapter 14;
And my favorite, "Little did he know what he was letting himself in for" ends Chapter 15.
This book is heart-warming and annoying at the same time. You want the author to say "We did it. Here's how."
It is an article for a major magazine turned into a book. Though not lengthy at 130 pages, and, for the most part, a page-turner, it occasionally feels as though the story is being elongated to make the characters more interesting than they are in real life.
But the author writes so well that you forgive this fictional enhancement of a long short article.
"Saving Eagle Mitch" won't become a movie like "Saving Private Ryan," principally because it is a story of the human spirit's quest for success through relationships on the more ephemeral Internet.
I don't know how many of us could take a film in which faces aren't seen, voices aren't heard, and all we do is watch a woman at her computer screen.
It works in the book though, and how it works.