Review: 438 DAYS by Jonathan Franklin

Reading time 3 mins

This biography was amazing. It is the type of non fiction that makes me feel good about being alive. In 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea, we meet a man named Salvador Alvarenga and see his unbelievable will to live against all odds.

Review: 438 DAYS by Jonathan Franklin438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin
Published by Atria Books on November 17th 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Adventurers & Explorers, Nature, Ecosystems & Habitats, Oceans & Seas, Sports & Recreation, Fishing
eARC provided by Atria Books

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438 Days is the miraculous account of the man who survived alone and adrift at sea longer than anyone in recorded history—as told to journalist Jonathan Franklin in dozens of exclusive interviews.

On November 17, 2012, Salvador Alvarenga left the coast of Mexico for a two-day fishing trip. A vicious storm killed his engine and the current dragged his boat out to sea. The storm picked up and blasted him west. When he washed ashore on January 29, 2014, he had arrived in the Marshall Islands, 9,000 miles away—equivalent to traveling from New York to Moscow round trip.

For fourteen months, Alvarenga survived constant shark attacks. He learned to catch fish with his bare hands. He built a fish net from a pair of empty plastic bottles. Taking apart the outboard motor, he fashioned a huge fishhook. Using fish vertebrae as needles, he stitched together his own clothes.

He considered suicide on multiple occasions—including offering himself up to a pack of sharks. But Alvarenga never failed to invent an alternative reality. He imagined a method of survival that kept his body and mind intact long enough for the Pacific Ocean to toss him up on a remote palm-studded island, where he was saved by a local couple living alone in their own Pacific Island paradise.

Based on dozens of hours of interviews with Alvarenga and interviews with his colleagues, search and rescue officials, the medical team that saved his life and the remote islanders who nursed him back to health, this is an epic tale of survival, an all-true version of the fictional Life of Pi. With illustrations, maps, and photographs throughout, 438 Days is a study of the resilience, will, ingenuity, and determination required for one man to survive fourteen months, lost at sea.

Somehow, I never heard about this man. I can’t believe this happened in my lifetime and I missed the news about it.

Salvador Alvarenga survived 438 days adrift in a small fishing boat.

He had no food, no water, no hope for so, so long. That is longer than anyone in recorded history has survived at sea, EVER! He went into the ocean November 17, 2012 and came out January 29, 2014. His story of survival is amazing! He became a national celebrity the minute people figured out how long he was out there. His journey almost pales in comparison to his fight to get back to normal after the trauma of his ordeal.

Admittedly, this book starts off with a rough index of readability. It is written by a investigative journalist who spent almost a year with Alvarenga and his family. Salvador Alvarenga is not an educated man or well spoken. He is not a grand storyteller, but this was such a grand story. What the author did for Alvarenga’s story, and the thing that made this story more amazing, is to add in professional and personal interview snippets. He cited experts in Oceanography, Research of Ocean and Earth Science, Applied Physiology, and Climatology, to name a few. He also interviewed the people at home that suspected him dead and the few that held on to hope. Between Alvarenga’s memories and the experts collaboration of what it might have been like, the author was able to make this educating and entertaining. In that order. The order of the story makes sense, I wouldn’t change a thing about this book.

I really enjoyed this book. Alvarenga comes across as a very humble hero. His story is so incredible. I spent lots of time trying to imagine what I would do to survive. The most compelling evidence of Alvarenga’s resolve is that his crew mate died after the first 4 weeks. Surviving 4 weeks at sea is no small feat, but Salvador Alvarenga lost the only human company he had and then went on to live another 13 months alone. It is hard to really comprehend what he went through.

The other thing about this book that really won me over, was that we actually got to see Alvarenga’s struggle when he did come home. People didn’t believe him at first. The author did a great job of explaining what it was like for him to re-enter society. He landed on an island where no one spoke his language. He was unable to explain his appearance or how long he had been gone. He was in complete survival mode and expected his rescuers to try to eat him. He was hounded by the press and was too weak to even speak a few words, much less give an interview. His journey back into society took almost as long as his sea journey. 

I feel so privileged to have read it. His story gives me hope for the resilience of the human spirit. His life is something for the record books. Salvador Alvarenga‘s story is one that must be told.

My Rating



About Jonathan Franklin

Jonathan Franklin has lived in Chile for more than fifteen years, twelve of those as The Guardian (UK) correspondent for Chile.

Granted a Rescue Team credential at the site of the Chilean mine disaster, his dispatches ran in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Observer (UK) and The Sydney Morning Herald.   As cameraman at the mine, he filmed exclusive footage for ABC News, CNN International, Univision and the Discovery Channel.

Fluent in Spanish, Franklin has covered events ranging from the arrest of Augusto Pinochet to the inner workings of the cocaine trade during his years in South America.  His features are regularly published in GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire, Playboy and many other magazines.  As cofounder of, Mr. Franklin travels throughout Latin America to produce reports for magazines and newspapers worldwide. His investigative reporting has been used by ABC’s Nightline, CBS’s 60 Minutes, A&E, the BBC and numerous documentary productions worldwide.

An American who was raised in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Franklin moved to Chile in 1994 and currently resides in Santiago with his wife, Toty Garfe, and his six daughters.

atria publishingI received this product free of charge in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links. This review is in compliance with the FTC guidelines.

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By | 2017-12-16T10:24:59+00:00 Friday, November 20, 2015|5 stars, Adventure, Biography, Non-Fiction, reviews|2 Comments

About the Author:

Mother, Lover, Writer, Reviewer, Social Media Princess. Karen has been a blogger since 2010. She is a US Army veteran, a medical professional, and the mother of four. Karen is the owner of That Book Store llc. She reviews books and shares mind vomit for this blog in her 'spare' time. Karen lives in New England.


  1. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
    November 20, 2015 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    For some reason survival stories don’t usually grab me but wow! This one sounds absolutely fascinating. Thanks for the heads up about the writing. It helps if I know not to expect to be instantly pulled in. Looking forward to reading this!
    Check Out Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library’s most recent post- Friday Linkups: The Sharper Your Knife the Less You CryMy Profile

    • Karen Blue
      November 21, 2015 at 10:13 am - Reply

      It was an easy read for me, because I love biographies. I hope you do get a chance to read this, his story is amazing.

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