Friday, February 11, 2011

Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand

Also reviewed by Elizabeth.

Summary: 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, seven years in the making, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in her blockbuster bestseller, 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.
Summary from book, cover photo indiebound.org

My Review: Before he was drafted into the army during World War II, Louis Zamporini was an Olympic runner. His successful running career was surprising to many. His survival of WWII was miraculous to all. Unbroken is the inspiring true story of Louie's life.

Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, has dug deep to research Zamporini's life. She opens with a brief overview of Louie's youth, giving the reader a feel for his character and determination. She then settles into WWII where the bulk of the story takes place. Mixed into this compelling story is a plethora of information on WWII POW camps housed in Japan.

When the bomber he was aboard crashed into the ocean, Louie managed to survive weeks on a small raft surrounded by sharks with minimal provisions. Against all odds he reaches land only to be met by Japanese forces who quickly sweep him off as a POW.  Soon it becomes clear that Louie's fight for his life has only just begun.

This is an engrossing story read with clamped hands and an accelerated heart-rate yet told in a compassionate manner. The material is many times disturbing but written with balance of detail to portray the horror while not overly done for pure shock value. Unbroken is a swiftly moving story that is quickly consumed but will not be forgotten.

My Rating: 5 Stars

To sum it up: An account of one man's sacrifice for his country and his will to survive.

5 comments:

Momma Hunt said...

I have this in my kindle waiting for me to get some time to start it. Looks like it might move up in the ranks after your review

Melissa Mc (Gerbera Daisy Diaries) said...

Got this for christmas...need to really make some time to read it.

Monica said...

My husband has been picking up every WWII book work reading - and this was one of them. He really liked it. Also enjoyed "With the Old Breed" by E. B. Sledge.

Chris Roberts said...

Author Laura Hillenbrand has done her best to keep at a minimum "Unbroken's" Louis Zamperini hand shake with Adolph Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. When I asked her why, when his teammate Jesse Owens was snubbed, he decided to shake Hitler’s hand, she replied, "Chris, it is a myth that Hitler snubbed Owens specifically." Not true at all. Here's what Zamperini had to say:

"Hitler came and shook my hand after the race," Zamperini recalls. "I was one of three Americans who shook his hand. But what happened was that one of his advisors told him that once he starts shaking hands, he'll have to shake all of them. We all knew he wasn't going to shake Jesse's hand."
“The Official Web Site of The United States Olympic Committee, teamusa dot org, 2009/11/12.”

It seems Louis Zamperini was fascinated by the Nazi's, here is another incident:

True to form and before departing for home, the troublemaker turned champion runner stole a Nazi flag off the Reich's Chancellery. Caught by the Gestapo, Zamperini convincingly talked his way out of the predicament and proudly brought the flag home.
“sports humanitarian dot com, 2008.”

And after all these years, over half a century, this is what the man thinks of Hitler:

Zamperini shook the Nazi leader's hand and thought the man odd. "Like a dangerous comedian," he said.
"Veterans Journal," Winter, 2006, Franklin County Veterans Service Commission, Columbus, Ohio.

Really? A comedian? That's a first in describing Hitler. Both Laura Hillenbrand and Louis Zamperini need to come clean about the Nazi question in the paperback version of "Unbroken" because now it is broken.

Melissa Mc (Gerbera Daisy Diaries) said...

Finally started this and all I can say is "WOW -- what took me so long?!!!"

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