Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: Unbroken

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The title is quite self-explanatory. And yet the story holds sharp turns, surprises, and descriptions of circumstances that will make your eyes pop out, all told through the unflinching prose of Laura Hillenbrand.

Our hero Louis Zamperini is a resourceful, mischievous, pie-stealing child of Italian parents in Torrance, California, and after that a college track star. He's even good enough to earn a spot in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

But then the war begins and this becomes a different story, one of B-24 planes, the Pacific, and the Japanese.

The story takes a turn for the astounding when Louie's plane crashes, killing all but three aboard. How does he survive six weeks on a life raft in the Pacific, when food and water rations have run out, sharks are below and Japanese bombers threaten above? It seems literally impossible, forcing you to wonder, What are the limits of the human body? And even if the body survives, can the mind and spirit?

After that it becomes a POW story. It's different to hear the story of World War II from the eyes of a POW. The war to Louie becomes years of cruelty with no end in sight, in particular from one Japanese man who is bent on torturing him. News of battles is from new POWs and smuggled, translated newspapers. "Resilience" as a word doesn't begin to capture what kind of inner fortitude Louie and the other POWs needed to survive daily beatings, starvation, disease, and psychological torture.

And finally, there's redemption. Louie comes home from the war, begins drinking heavily, is tormented by nightmares, and is on the brink of divorce from his new wife. But his story couldn't end like that...could it? Again Louie averts a disastrous fate.

This is a fantastic work of nonfiction that deserves its spot on the bestseller list. It's a great story that is told very well -- with beautiful, flowing prose, and in a way that is inspirational but not saccharine. I am buying Laura Hillenbrand's next book.

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