Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand (Random House, November, 2010)

Right up front, I will suggest you read this book. I won’t say you must read this book. Shoulds often breed contempt, rebellion or a secret suspicion that said bookseller is out to make a sale. This being said, you should read this book.

It’s the true story of Louis Zamperini, a wayward boy who spent his youthful energy being the local hood until he channeled it all into running which ultimately got him a spot in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He became the beloved hometown hero.

In 1941, with history marching toward the attack on Pearl Harbor, Louis joined the Army Air Corps, shortly left it due to air sickness, then got drafted and joined the army. He ultimately ended up as s Second Lieutenant in the Air Corps. This was the beginning of events that would send him into the air in a B-24 which crashed in the Pacific. He survived only to end up as a Japanese POW without any of the rights guaranteed to POWs by the Geneva Convention. This is the story of a man literally unbroken by deprivation, a psychotic Japanese corporal named Mutsuhiro Watanabe, shark infested waters circling a damaged life raft after the plane crash. Never giving into despair, he maintained a sense of self dignity.

His innate ability to survive under any circumstances benefited many of his friends and fellow prisoners. Once he volunteered to starch the Japanese’ shirts which were soaked in rice water as the starching agent. He would filter the tiny bits of rice through the shirt threads and pass them among the other starving comrades. Hillenbrand weaves the action and the facts seamlessly with a steady clip. The facts in this novel-like book become as compelling as the sensational storyline.

Right: Louis Zamperini welcomed home by loved ones. For more photographs and another extensive interview see this Wall Street Journal article.

The B-24, cockpit, Louis’ home in the sky, was once described as “like sitting on the front porch and flying the house. Accidents, even on the homefront, were common with this massive air machine. In the Army Air Forces, there were 52,651 stateside aircraft accidents, killing 14,093 personnel.” But the B-24 didn’t kill Louis.

The author drives us reading passengers through air, land and sea in a literary way similar (to me) to Curtis Wilkie’s style in Fall of the House of Zeus. Her galloping sentences never wax into poetry or flowery prose yet they paint an unforgettable picture that entices readers of both genders, old and young. Do any of you remember back, a very long time ago, a television program called You are There? That’s how this author writes, as though we are there, right in the cockpit, in the endless Pacific, in the prisons.

Having been primarily a fiction reader during my twenty something years at Lemuria, I have recently discovered the joys of reading current nonfiction literature. If you like this book which is #1 on the bestseller’s list in this week’s Sunday paper, I would like to suggest two other “over the top” nonfiction reads, Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer (see Norma’s blogs) and John Valliant’s The Tiger. You really should read these books.


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