A friend loaned me a copy of Laura Hillenbrand's latest book, Unbroken She made a good case for the book. "It's a wonderful story of a man in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. You'll like it." I wasn't so sure after I'd read the summary on the inside cover, but the blurbs on the back cover promised a terrific read. I sat down one evening to begin this non-fiction story, promising myself I would quit if it was too much blood and gore.
I'd read and enjoyed Ms. Hillenbrand's earlier book Seabiscuit, so I already knew she was an excellent writer. She has the ability to create non-fiction that reads like a novel. It took very little time before I found myself hooked. I created more reading time than normal so that I could continue the story Yes, it was hard to lay it down when the clock had long passed my normal bedtime.
The book tells the story of Louis Zamperini, born in 1917 in California. He found himself constantly in trouble until he starts running races in his teen years. He ran so hard and so fast that he ran right into being an Olympic star, competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. WWII interrupted his plan to run even faster in the 1940 Olympics.
Instead, he became a bombardier airman in the Pacific theater. His plane was shot down, and he and two other airmen drifted in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days fighting extreme hunger and thirst, constant shark attacks and more. Their rescue comes with a bitter pill for it is Japanese soldier who find them. Louie is taken to a POW camp in Japan where he meets trial upon trial in three POW camps, one of which is run by a sadistic commander who delights in putting Louie through more than most men could endure.
It is almost beyond belief that a human being survived the degradation and harsh living conditions but survive he did. While reading, I feared for him and I cheered for him. I hurt inside at some of the things he endured. And I ended up being amazed at what he did with his life after the war ended and he went home.
The subtitle of the book is A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption which is a perfect description of this deeply researched, well-told story. The book is quite simply unforgettable. That is partly due to Louie's story but also to the outstanding story-telling ability of Ms. Hillenbrand.