Caves are sacred in Thailand, writes Thai American author Christina Soontornvat in her outstanding All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team. “A mountain holds power, and a cave provides a way to tap into that power.” Tourists and locals have long been drawn to the mysterious tunnels in Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park. So it’s no surprise that in June 2018, the 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach decided to explore the caves. By nighttime, their families knew something was wrong. The boys weren’t home, and the rainy season had arrived early. It soon became clear that the team was trapped far from the entrance by rising waters. For the next 18 days, the boys’ families and thousands of volunteers kept a vigil on the mountain. They were joined by a group of rescuers ready to risk their lives to save the cold and hungry boys who waited and meditated below.
Soontornvat masterfully chronicles this amazing undertaking, in which incredible ad hoc feats of engineering became commonplace. Her narration and the testimonies of the numerous figures she interviewed are suspenseful and deeply felt. Interspersed with All Thirteen’s gripping account are fascinating, accessible analyses—supplemented by photos, diagrams, maps and more—of the cultural, technological, scientific and spiritual considerations that affected the rescue effort, from Buddhism to climate change to political protocol.
The harrowing rescue required divers to navigate murky water and capricious currents while carrying the children through narrow passages. All Thirteen is an inspiring testament to those 18 fateful days of communal empathy, determination and hope. In Soontornvat’s talented hands, it’s at once a nail-biter and a revelation: “This rescue was impossible, and they did it anyway.”