144. Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

Friday, August 03, 2012
I’ve been slacking in the book review department.  As I finished another book last week, I realized that I had completely missed posting a quick review of the previous book I had finished.  It was even more disappointing because it was a book I was really looking forward to reviewing at the time; I had even highlighted passages in my eReader as I went along to ensure that I’d quote them and refer back to those parts of the story.  Sadly, I deleted it from Hrothgar without thinking and the urge/desire/will to write an in-depth post on the book has left me.  The book is Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience,and Redemption by Lauren Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit).  It’s the story of Louis Zamperini, an American Olympic runner and his horrific experiences as a POW in the Pacific during the Second World War.

He began life as a sickly child with breathing problems.  On the recommendations of doctors, the family moved west where Louis’ health improved.  As a teen, he followed his older brother into running and eventually made it to the Olympics, competing alongside the legendary Jesse Owens.  Unfortunately for Louis (and his dreams of a second Olympics), World War II intervened and he became an airman stationed in Hawaii where he was in the thick of the war in the Pacific.  Luck wasn’t on his side and his plane was eventually shot down in the middle of the ocean with only three of the crew surviving.  After spending over six weeks at sea, they spotted land; and were then quickly spotted by the Japanese.  Louis spent more than two years in a number of Japanese POW camps, undergoing unthinkably brutal conditions including near starvation, constant beatings, forced labour and mental abuse.

The war in Europe is, in a way, quite familiar to most of us. I’d guess that for every ten documentary programs that are made about the war, only one is likely to be focused on the war in the Pacific. Movies and television programs also seem to focus on this portion of the war with barely a mention of the fight against the Japanese.  So, I was quite eager to read a personal story about the war in the East and learn more about what it was like for the men and women who were captured. 

Unbroken was a great read but, as David Magorlick states in his NY Times review, the book "offered her an unusual chance to study and dissect a man who had undergone extreme duress. But virtually everything about Zamperini is filtered through her capable yet rather denatured vice, and we don’t really hear him."  While the book brought out a lot of emotion, I found myself unable to correct directly to Zamperini or his specific story.  All in all, I'd recommend Unbroken.


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