Wednesday, October 9, 2013

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

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: 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.

In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

My thoughts: The easiest way to summarize this book is simply state that I am disappointed in myself for not reading it earlier and this is a book I will purchase and keep forever. Much more than that detracts from this book.

Not only is it an incredible story of unbreakable spirit and survival in every aspect, the way the story is told is beautiful and timely. The lessons that could be learned, so powerful and personal are interspersed throughout the book. The description of the flashbacks, particularly the last one is incredibly poignant.

I am not quoting because I don't have the book right here with me, but Louie suffered a particularly cruel prisoner of war commandant who sought him out daily to beat him on his head and face. I had some psychological thoughts and epiphanies as I read these experiences having to do with how people in a position of power; at work, at war, or starting a war, are insecure adolescents who have had a few decades to stew over their feelings of powerlessness thus act out in an attempt to feel powerful, superior, and to compensate for that adolescence. That was my epiphany.

Louie's and/or Laura's epiphany was much more poignant. While this guard clung to Louie, sought him out, chased him and beat him down during his years in the prison camp, Louie's obsession with the guard/commandant and his hatred tied him to this monster, keeping him in a self-imposed prison. How often do we do that? Do we have the courage to unconditionally love and forgive? Could we pour the poison down the drain and never look back? Could we metaphorically embrace our enemies and pray for the best for them?

That is only one aspect of this non-fiction novel. This man survived some incredible experiences.

Well researched, written, paced, and I am completely enamored by Louie. Particularly after seeing the photos of him in his sixties plus. The book could just as easily be called "Indomitable." I will not lie. What mended Louie, the scene he described with his last flashback and what he did when he got home brought me to tears.


Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I dare not say something is the "best" of anything...but this gets fairly close to being one of the best books I've ever read.
Angelina Jolie is producing/directing (not sure which) the movie...not sure how I feel about that exactly.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this book so much, it really sounds fascinating. What a character Zamperini is!
I think I'm one of the few book bloggers left who hasn't read this book. I don't know why as it's received such wonderful reviews. I'm going to have to get it and read it before the movie comes out!

Kim said...

I loved this book! I even Googled Louie, just to make sure he was still alive and kickin' (and saw a picture of the elderly man skateboarding).

And in December, 2014, the movie of his life will debut. I can't wait to see it.

techeditor said...

I read this book, too, right after it was published.

I’m afraid many readers will miss this book because it's nonfiction. They think nonfiction is dull. But I promise, UNBROKEN is not dull. It’s a can’t-put-it-down book that will keep you up at night.

I found the book un-put-downable because I wasn’t familiar with Louie’s story. Some reviewers are doing you a disservice by summarizing the book’s various parts.

Do yourself a favor: don’t read the book flap or other reviews, either, until you’ve read the book yourself.

I can tell you this. UNBROKEN begins with a prologue. Louie and two other men are floating on a rubber raft in the ocean. They’re starving to death and weak when a jet flies low over them. Louie thinks it is American, and they are about to be saved. But it’s not. What happens on that ocean is really bad. But after the prologue and after the story begins with Louie’s early life to his experiences as a runner to the Olympics to the military, it then keeps getting worse.

Even so, I didn’t think this was a depressing book. I’ll admit, sometimes it was hard to read, and, if you’re like me, you may get so caught up in the story you’ll even get a headache at times. I wanted to keep reading because, even though bad kept happening, Louie kept overcoming.

I read a lot. I usually find one, maybe two, books a year that are so wonderful I can’t speak highly enough of them. This is one of those books.