Jeff Bauman, Bret Witt
Grand Central Publishing, April 2014
Rating : 5 out of 5 stars
In a week marked by a terrible air tragedy and escalating military conflicts, the familiar face of Boston Marathon bombing survivor, Jeff Bauman, re-emerges with uplifting news of his recent paternity and the development of a movie project based on his biography, Stronger (Grand Central Publishing, April 2014).
By now, we all know his inspirational story of resiliency in the face of great adversity. Bauman's life dramatically changed when he met Tamerlan Tsarnaev at 2:48 pm on April 15, 2013, half a block away from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In a crowd of half a million people celebrating Patriot's Day and running for charity, he found himself right beside one of the two Chechen brothers responsible for the most high-profile terrorist event on US soil since September 11. Jeff was standing among that crowd to cheer for his girlfriend, Erin Hurley, when he noticed Tsarnaev. His demeanor immediately struck Jeff as odd. Sunglasses and white baseball cap pulled low over his face, a hooded jacket that seemed too heavy, even on a cool day. "[...] unlike everybody else, this guy wasn't cheering and watching the race", Bauman recalls in his memoir. "He was alone, not having a good time, not enjoying himself. He was all business." Jeff couldn't see the young man's eyes, because of the sunglasses, but he had the strong feeling Tsarnaev was staring at him: "I know now he was planning to kill me - in less than a minute [...] I'd be dead - but his face revealed no emotion. No doubt. No remorse."
Distracted by a few friends standing next to him, Bauman lost eye-contact with the young Chechen, but he noticed that the bag-pack the guy was carrying just moments before was sitting on the ground, right near his feet. That airport warning to pay attention to suspicious and unattended bags and a sudden jolt of fear ran through his head. Too late. Two pressure cooker bombs went off two hundred yards apart from each other, killing three people and injuring more than two hundred and sixty. Jeff Bauman was among them. The memory of the moments that immediately followed the explosions didn't get hazy for Bauman. On the contrary, they got very clear and they are recorded in a brave and compelling autobiography that Lions Gate Entertainment will bring to the big screen with independent production company Mandeville Films.
In his heart-wrenching memoir, Bauman narrates how he was still groggy from a series of life-saving procedures and still unable to speak when, hours after the bombings, he pointed at paper and pen, and wrote down a few words that would set off one of the biggest manhunts in the history of this country. A key witness in the FBI investigations, he was caught in the mainstream and social media firestorm that led to the identification of the two attackers.. Humbled and overwhelmed by the world's admiration, he devotes several pages of his book to celebrating all the fellow survivors of the bombings, the rescuers, the medical personnel that gave him the chance to walk again and prove that "I - that we - are better than cowards with bombs. That we are not broken. And we are not afraid." Jeff Bauman certainly brings the slogan "Boston Strong" to a whole new level: while he bravely struggled with the permanence of his injuries, soldiers from the Wounded Warrior Project and several celebrities (Bradley Cooper, James Taylor, Julian Edelman, Brian Williams, GQ Magazine) paid homage to his courage. Generous donations were made through social media and fundraising (Challenged Athletes CAF Foundation and Wiggle Your Toes) to help him sustain the exorbitant cost of prostetic legs.
The gruesome scene of the carnage unfolding in front of his eyes, the memory of a man (Carlos Arredondo) in a yellow cowboy hat who leaped over the barricades to lift him and put him into a wheelchair, the frantic ambulance run to the Boston Medical Center, are recorded by Bauman with narrative vividness and emotional clarity: "I lay down. I'm going to die, I thought, and I realized I was okay with that. I had lived a short life, only twenty-seven years, but a good life. I was okay with letting go." Penned in collaboration with New York Times bestselling author Bret Witter, Stronger is the heart-shattering account of a devastating trauma and courageous, albeit arduous, journey to recovery of a young American man who lost a part of his physical body, but faced his new circumstances with grace and raised above them with a renewed sense of purpose: "I saw the bomber. He took my legs, but he didn't break me. He only made me stronger."
***Review copy graciously offered by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased and honest review