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Writer recalls brother’s shortened life

“The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky”

by Ken Dornstein (Random, 320 pages, $23.95)

In 1988, shortly before Christmas, aspiring writer David Dornstein boarded Pan Am Flight 103 at Heathrow Airport. After spending several months studying in Israel, he was returning home to New York. But unknown to anyone, Libyan terrorists had stuffed a bomb inside a cassette player and hidden it within the plane’s cockpit. It detonated over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers, including 25-year-old David.

Ken Dornstein, a series editor at PBS’ “Frontline,” devoted the next 11 years to shoring up the literary corpus of his brother’s half-lived life. The result is a rigorous self-examination of bereavement, loss, brotherhood and the haunting power of words.

Grief often has no language, its victims muted by an inability to find a narrative in which to place trauma. But when Dornstein’s memories become muddy, he relies on David’s writing for clues, articulating who his brother was as well as the emptiness his death left behind.

Dornstein traces his brother’s life back from Lockerbie to his days as a student at Brown University.

A nuanced, charismatic portrait emerges, and readers come to view David as his brother sees him – suffocating, enigmatic, yet unfailingly honest in his love and ambition.