Eagle in the Sky
cover of 1974 Heinemann first edition
Eagle in the Sky is a novel by Wilbur Smith, published in 1974.
The book sold 600,000 copies in the first six months.
A 14-year-old David Morgan, handsome and academically gifted heir to a South African business empire and fortune, learns to fly with Barney Venter, a gruff but experienced ex-airline pilot. He realises that David is 'bird' - blessed with a natural flying ability. David learns quickly and soon gains his pilot's licence. After school, he opts to join the South African Air Force instead of going to university and business school.
He impresses his commanding officer, the crusty Colonel Rastus Naude, who is disappointed when David decides not to accept a longer service contract and instead tries to seek out what he's meant to do. He travels widely in Europe. In Spain, he meets Debra Mordechai, an attractive young Israeli writer and university lecturer, who's traveling with her brother Joe and his fiancee Hannah. Debra rebuffs David's advances and they part on bitter terms.
David is drawn to Jerusalem to find her, and meets 'The Brig', her father, General Mordechai, a plain-spoken pilot in the IDF and a senior staff officer. Learning that David has much experience on flying Mirage jets, he satisfies himself of David's skills and then offers him a commission in the IDF. He accepts and is granted Israeli citizenship. He is plunged into Israel's struggle for survival.
David's memories of his own (Jewish) mother and his growing passion for Debra make his involvement with this new country's cause inescapable. He and Debra set up house together. But at Joe and Hannah's wedding, a terrorist attack kills Hannah and Debra is left blind. In her grief, she rebuffs David, who only finds solace in the skies.
He and Joe get into a dogfight with Russian-trained Syrian fighters. Joe's plane is shot down and David, low on fuel and on the wrong side of the border, is forced to ditch. His jet catches fire and he is badly burned.
A year later, after much plastic surgery and no longer the handsome man he was, David is forced to resign his commission on pain of a court-martial. He is now an outcast, as he had brought Israel to the brink of open war. He desperately seeks out Debra, and she is now willing to accept him back, not knowing what he now looks like.
They marry, despite the misgivings and anger of 'The Brig' and they travel to the now virtually derelict game lodge that David's late father owned in the South African bush. Remembering all the poaching and 'sport' killing that had happened there in his youth, he seeks out game warden Conrad Berg and offers the whole estate as a national park to serve as a haven for animals fleeing poachers.
David falls foul of a particularly ruthless poacher and in the ensuing violence, Debra is badly injured. Pregnant, she loses the baby. But the injury has affected her brain and she can now sense some colours. They travel to Cape Town to consult a top ophthalmic surgeon, who decides to operate.
The procedure is successful and Debra's sight is restored. But she can now see how David really looks and in her panic, she rebuffs him. David is badly hurt and seeks consolation in the only place he feels safe - the sky. He plans to commit suicide by flying until his fuel runs out, but Debra's father, who is visiting and has friends in Air Traffic Control, establishes radio contact with him and convinces him to return to Debra.
Film rights were bought by producer Michael Klinger who made several movies based on Smith novels. In the early 1980s, it was announced a film version would be shot in Israel starring Pia Zadora. However, as of 2013 no film has resulted.
- Herbstein, Denis. "The Man with the Gold Typewriter." Sunday Times [London, England] 11 Apr. 1976: 55[S]+. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.
- Andrew Spicer, 'Rethinking Authorship in Film: The Struggle for Creative Control between Michael Klinger (Producer) and Wilbur Smith (Writer)'Smith
- MOVIES: THE MAN WHO PUT PIA'S NAME IN LIGHTS--HER HUSBAND Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 03 May 1981: n24.
- MOVIE CALL SHEET: Klinger Has $30 Million Plans Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 03 Jan 1976: b10.
- Eagle in the Sky at Wilbur Smith's website