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

Posted May 10th, 2013 by in *Review / 4 comments

unbrokenTitle: Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: Nov 2010
Classification: Adult Non-Fiction Novel

Summary from Goodreads:

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:

Sometimes, a human being can live more in one life than most of us could ever do in a hundred. These are the stories that we as human beings crave. The unbelievable true stories that can define an era of history. If any of you are aware of my own interests, you might know that I am a student of history and it is also my intended career path. I am fascinated by the true stories which come from the most desperate of times as they can truly define the human spirit. I came across this book one day during my many trips to my local Barnes and Noble and was instantly in awe of its premise. There are boundless books relating to World War II and since they are so plentiful, many of them get lost in the shuffle. What is the saying….if you have read one, you have read em all? Something to that effect, I’m sure. But this book stood out as the war was actually a backdrop to this story and it was instead a man, a legendary man (in my own opinion), that stood at the forefront. Louis Zamperini.

The name doesn’t sound familiar to you? Well fear not, as even in my years of study, I too was not aware of such a name. But then I cracked open this gem of a book and the name Louis Zamperini shall forever be etched in my memory, and in my heart, for his story is truly one of legend. Louis Zamperini came from humble beginnings, born in the early 20th Century and was a rebellious youth. He was inclined to get into trouble and cause a ruckus but it was through his brothers urging that he found his calling; long distance running. And this man could run. He was a machine on the track and was well on his way of breaking the 4 minute mile barrier in record time, considering his minimal years of training compared to other runners. His story grew more and more exceptional with each passing page and eventually, we found him at the Berlin Olympics where he became a guest to the leader of the Third Reich, the Fuhrer himself, Adolf Hitler. To say that was a surreal experience would be an understatement I’m sure. But this is but only the introduction to our grand tale. 1939– The beginning of World War II. December 7th, 1941– Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Not long after, Louis Zamperini’s world would forever be changed. He was to be drafted into the Army Air Corps.

Some might say this is when the story began to pick up, but I wholeheartedly feel as though the story took off running within the first pages and never looked back, much like Zamp (as he is affectionately called). What made this book so enticing and enthralling was its quick pace and hits of true, hard reality. At any moment, our own fragile life can shatter. Zamperini’s life did just that when during a rescue mission out over the Pacific, his plane crashed and he was stranded out in the ocean, teaming with sharks, for 42 days. 42 days with minimal food rations (which were then eaten by a delirious crew member) and very little water. He had to use his own wits about him to survive, which included catching rain water for a solution to his problems. Zamperini had been shot at during the early parts of his stay in the war and had endured the loss of some of his friends in the Pacific Theatre, but nothing could have prepared him for those long and arduous 42 days at sea. The current pushed his raft about and he and his crew members thought they were to be rescued, Well they were, but by the most unlikliest and unwelcome of people. With the dye of the raft staining his skin, his weight dropping ever so dramatically and his own mind losing its vigor from the heat and desolation, he and his crew members found ‘rescue’ from the Japanese forces. Louis Zamperini’s life would never be the same again.

Laura Hillenbrand really makes its a point to change the tone of the story from one of biography (Zamperini’s early days) to a sweeping narrative (his crash and internment in Japanese POW Camps) and does so with ease. Flawless and without a hitch, Hillenbrand captures the deep and overwhelming emotions that Zamperini experienced, and does so with pristine clarity. Zamperini had a hand in this book and rightfully so; this is his legacy. Right now, I am holding my tongue in describing all of the events which unfolded for the next few years of Louis Zamperini’s life as it would ruin the grand scale of the story at large. I can say one thing for certain; if you do not feel something for this man by the time you are finished with this book , then head to the doctor immediately as I believe you have no heart. When a story is true but seems fictional, it is a story worth telling. Zamperini’s own accounts of his life compliments Hillenbrand’s epic writing. A rainbow of emotions are conveyed through words, written on pages.

Even though this book might seem like a destitute read, it does have its happy ending, but that seems obvious since Zamperini helped in its creation. The gloom and doom times of this read are highlighted by bits of humor, as it would seem humor can be found even in hell. I especially got a kick out of soem of the pranks the prisoners would brazenly pull on the Japanese officers but found sadness in their eventual repercussions. And each prolific officer is given a nickname by Zamperini which makes them easy to recognize, but none are more important than Zamperini’s personal tormentor; The Bird. He might be one of the most powerful villians I have read about in the war, one in which most people have never heard of. Hillenbrand makes a point to document his story as well, as the Bird’s life interweaves in the later years of one Louis Zamperini. Everything comes full circle in this book, and that is why it is a gem.

The discussion of the later years of Zamperini’s life can be taken in many ways; alcoholic. Desperate. Selfish. Afraid. But who wouldn’t act in such a way if they had been under such duress for many a year? But it was his finding of God that turned his life around. Through all the trials and tribulations of his internment, Louis Zamperini vowed to never be broken. “They will not break me”. That line was uttered quite often throughout the book and turned out to be the absolute truth. I cannot imagine a person who loves history not reading this book. It should be required reading in schools as it hold many life lessons which would prove to be invaluable. Some might say Louis Zamperini is making a living off his war time experiences; I say to hell those people. They had not lived his life and if they had, they would want to tell their tales and rightfully so; this story needs to be told. I was impressed by the scope and scale of this instant classic. Like all good things, everything dies, but Louis Zamperini will live on forever, thanks in part to this wondrous book. His story shall be told long after our generation is in the history books.

This book cannot be rated in terms of hearts or skulls. It can only be classified as a must read.





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