Netflix's When Heroes Fly follows four Israeli military veterans brought together years after a bitter falling out in order to save a friend they'd previously thought was dead. Some of the show is rooted in real history, but When Heroes Fly isn't based on a true story. It's actually adapted from Israeli author Amir Gutfreund's 2008 novel of the same name.
The original book starts after the Six-Day War — or the Third Arab-Israeli War — in 1967, with five boys and one girl living in the Israeli city of Haifa. The five men grow apart over the years, but reunite nearly three decades later to rescue the woman (who was also one of the boys' girlfriend) from a religious cult in America. As reported by The Times of Israel, the adapted series originally premiered on the Israeli channel Keshet in May 2018 and was successfully renewed for a second season. However, the show took a few creative liberties: it features four (not five) veterans who served in the 2006 Lebanon War (not the Six-Day War), and picks up 10 years after their falling out rather than 30. Together, they set out to find Yaeli, the sister of one them and the former girlfriend of another, in Colombia after she was presumed dead.
As show creator Omri Givon explained in the above video interview for World Screen, he focused on the latter part of the book instead of creating a straight adaptation. So When Heroes Fly follows these men searching for their friend in the Colombian jungle and dealing with their shared trauma from their war service. "I kept the themes from the novel, but it's not like the exact story from the novel," Givon said. He also noted to Drama Quarterly that each episode flashes back to show what happened to the characters in the past.
As for the book, author Gutfreund died from cancer at the age of 52 in 2015. According to Israeli publication Haaretz, he was a veteran himself and served in the Israeli Air Force for 20 years. Haaretz further reports that he did mathematical research and became a lieutenant colonel before retiring at the age of 42. He was a published author while in the air force and he continued to write after his retirement, with When Heroes Fly (aka Heroes Fly To Her) being published in 2008.
In a 2011 article for Haaretz about his admiration for international soccer player Roby Young, Gutfreund wrote that the novel had some basis in reality. He said it was "inspired by [his] childhood," and that he even references Young in the book. As The Jerusalem Post reported in 2010, When Heroes Fly was also used as inspiration for the Israeli film Once I Was (known as The Matchmaker in America). Yet again, this wasn't a straight adaptation since filmmaker Avi Nesher worked with Gutfreund to combine a few stories, but as it's a coming-of-age film, Gutfreund's own childhood experiences may have been an influence there, too.
Per Variety, an American version of When Heroes Fly is also now in the works. So even though all of the adaptations of Gutfreund's book mark a departure from what he wrote, the story of friends coming together after war clearly resonates with people. You can check out the most recent take on Gutfreund's When Heroes Fly when the Israeli series hits Netflix Jan. 10.