Sunday, June 24, 2012

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini with his brother Pete
My sister and husband both read Unbroken for their respective book groups and loved it. I was looking forward to diving in, and it did not disappoint.

Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini, destined to be the world's fastest miler. He spent his childhood getting into one scrape after another and seemed destined to be a failure until he discovered running. He participated in the 1936 Olympics (presided over by Hitler) but would be in his prime at the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. Sadly, the 1940 Games were cancelled, and he was otherwise occupied in 1944.
The photo that made me cry!
Zamperini greeting his mother
after returning from the war

When World War II broke out, Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Forces and was stationed in Hawaii. While flying in a plane over the Pacific to rescue another plane that had not returned from a mission, Zamperini and his crewmates crash-landed in the ocean. Amazingly, he and the two other survivors floated on a life raft for 47 days--drinking rain water, eating raw fish and birds they caught with their hands, and telling stories to keep themselves sanee--before drifting to one of the Marshall islands, where they were captured by the Japanese.

This is nonfiction at its best: I learned about running, life in the army during World War II (and how many planes went down when they were not in combat), and survival in a brutal Japanese POW camp. Heavy on narrative and light on dialogue, the book drags for some readers (especially during the descriptions of the airplanes and combat flights), but I found the book to be completely gripping.

When Zamperini returns to the U.S., he suffers from alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder, which in those days was not talked about much less treated.

Of course, the most fascinating thing about the book is knowing that it's a true story and Louis Zamperini survived what seemed humanly impossible to endure...first while being lost at sea without food or water, somehow missing the circling and lunging sharks, and then while enduring brutal, horrific treatment at the hands of the Japanese guards, who believed it was shameful to be a POW and so took out their scorn in violent, inhumane ways.

After living in Japan and being welcomed by the Japanese people, it's hard to read about the brutality during the war. But Zamperini was able to forgive his Japanese captors and eventually returned to Japan, once to see his guards and extend an olive branch, and again to carry the torch at the Nagano Olympics.

Zamperini is in fact still alive and kicking, at age 95. Here is a short video about Zamperini:

Go read this book!! It will make you look at your life in new ways and stop you from taking things for granted.

1 comment: