Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 2010
Source: Loan from my sister-in-law
The Short Version:
A story that would be completely unbelievable if it was fiction is the best way to describe the life of Louis Zamperini.
Why I Read It:
Everyone I knew was loving this book 4 years ago and I’ve had my sister-in-law’s copy on my shelf for almost that long. It was high time I finally read it.
From the publisher:
In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, 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.
This is one of those books I had on my shelf (on loan from my sister-in-law) that I purposely avoided for a long time. Initially it was because everyone seemed to be reading and recommending it. When that happens I tend to avoid the book because my expectations are so high that I always feel like I’m setting myself up for disappointment.
I finally started it as part of my unofficial Non-Fiction November and then started seeing ads and trailers for the upcoming movie version. I’m really glad I read it before the movie came out.
Louis Zamperini’s story is an amazing one. It’s actually several stories.
His transformation from wild kid to Olympic athlete is one. A wild child headed for trouble, he almost accidentally found his talent as a runner. That he made it into the record books and to the 1936 Olympics is a triumph in itself.
World War II changed his path. When his plane crashed he and two other crew members were the only survivors. To survive 47 days floating in the ocean with no food or water is an amazing story. To follow that up with 2 years of the horrific conditions endured by Japanese prisoners of war is truly a story that would be unbelievable if it hadn’t actually happened.
Zamperini’s final story is his struggle with PTSD and alcohol abuse. His encounter with evangelist Billy Graham was a turning point.
In addition to these stories Hillenbrand takes several detours along the way to tell more about Zamperini’s crewmates, his family and even the sadistic prison camp guard.
Parts of this were extremely difficult to read. In particular the treatment of the POWs was horrific.
Hillenbrand clearly did massive amounts of research and Zamperini’s life is clearly a long and amazing one. I’m glad I finally read this book but it wasn’t one that I’d call excellent. There was a lot of information about a lot of people and even though this is primarily Zamperini’s story it felt rather distant and removed. It full of facts and details but even when the details were about Louie it felt disengaged.
So while I think it was an amazing story, I don’t necessarily think it was an amazing book.