India Charm Offensive
“Captain” Mike Sobotta anticipated an exotic adventure when he signed on to pilot a helicopter in the jungles of India. At the time, he was working with fishermen in the South Pacific, flying a helicopter over the ocean to help them spot tuna. The prospect of improved food, pay, and lodgings was too much to resist, and soon he found himself on land again and learning a new culture. He had a lot to learn. The company for which he worked assigned him to a room in a guest house with touchy air-conditioning, leaky windows, loud company, and a complete lack of cleanliness. The eagerly anticipated food seared his mouth and revolted in his stomach; he struggled with multiple bouts of food poisoning. He learned to navigate not only the jungle routes but also the cultural landscape, encountering armed insurgents, labyrinthine bureaucracy, and a motley cast of characters along the way. Even a mundane day could be an adventure in India, and India Charm Offensive entertains with a series of surprising and informative anecdotes.
Not generally a reader of memoirs, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed India Charm Offensive. Sobotta has a talent for storytelling and manages to elicit a chuckle with even the most gruesome of food-poisoning stories. I was riveted by his narration of a near-death experience and rooting for him in his romantic encounters. My only complaint is that the book is misnamed; Sobotta’s charm offensive takes place behind the scenes since he doesn’t share much of his interpersonal relationships. Be prepared to be regaled with stories of treacherous roads, pesky wildlife, quirky coworkers, amazing architecture, even death-defying flying, but you won’t find out if Sobotta gets the girl. India Charm Offensive tells the story of Sobotta’s first of three years in India, so perhaps there will be a sequel to let the eager reader know how his India exploits end.