Book Review: Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

05 Sep

8664353Genre: non-fiction; survival; WWII

Plot Summary: [from] “On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War. The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.”

My Book Review: I was 10 years old when the Winter Olympic Games were held in Nagano, Japan.  I don’t remember a whole lot from them, except for Tara Lipinski winning gold.  My grandpa recorded some of the sports and gave my family the video tapes and one night a year or two later I sat down to watch some of them.  I was surprised when a CBS documentary started playing about a WWII vet named Louis Zamperini and I was glued to the story.  It was told in shortened, condensed form but I remember I was so awed by it that I watched it a second time and remembered most of the details for nearly 15 years.

Four years ago, Laura Hillenbrand published a book about Louis Zamperini’s experiences in “Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”  I knew I had to read it!  And was I ever especially thrilled when I learned that it was to be made into a movie (which will come out in theaters this Christmas)!  I already had it on my To-Read List, but I made sure to get it finished this summer before I go to see the movie.  My local library had 5 copies (one of which was audiobook) and all of them were checked out, including every copy from our two interlibrary loan systems!  I was on a waiting list for about a month.

You just can’t say enough good things about this powerful story. Hillenbrand doesn’t take any creative liberties, and even tells this epic in simple sentences allowing Zamperini’s story stands on it’s own without any help.  It’s well researched, and isn’t bogged down by tons of footnotes, which I appreciated.  One could well picture the misery of Louis’ situations… floating on a life raft, fending off sharks, living thorugh the horrors of a Japanese POW camp…  This book greatly helped me understand why WWII vets struggled in their post-war lives.  And it also helped to give me a little shot of hope in the arm for those times when I feel like I need it.

I must admit that knowing what would happen from watching the documentary took a lot of the surprise element out of reading, so I highly recommend reading it before watching the movie.  It’s hard to know what to write here because I don’t want to provide any spoilers.  Just let it be enough that if you haven’t read it yet, please do as I think it should be on everyone’s recommended reading list.

I was saddened to hear that Louis Zamperini passed away this summer at age 97 (ironically of pneumonia, the very illness which prompted his family to move to California when he was two years old).  But I have never been more excited for a movie to come out in the theatres (for the record, I watched Seabiscuit in theater, too)!  As soon as I heard it was in production, I made it a particular prayer request that the film would do Zamperini’s story justice.  From the looks of the trailer, I have no qualms.

PLEASE read this book!  You’ll be glad you did!

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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Book Reviews


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