An Unexpectedly Good Read: Unbroken

7:38 PM

While perusing books in a library book sale, I found a copy of Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Having seen trailers for the film and heard good reviews, I appreciated the opportunity to read the book prior to an opportunity to see the film. While I expected the book to be good, it begins with certain challenges. As a work of history, a reader knows that the United States and its Allies will defeat the Japanese. Also, one can conclude, based on the the title alone, that our prisoner of war is going to survive the war. One might even imagine the former prisoner of war's challenges to readjust after the war. Nonetheless, in the end, the story told is unexpectedly good.

Unbroken recounts the experiences of Louis Zamperini and the people closest to him. A rough youth, Zamperini developed into a world-class runner through the encouragement of his brother Pete, his natural gifts, and extraordinary effort. Zamperini, after a remarkable high school career, runs for USC and, in the 1936 Olympics, for the U.S.

With the outbreak of World War II, Zamperini becomes a bombardier for the Army Air Corps on a B-24 in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Zamperini flew aboard a plane dubbed "Super Man" in a distinguished mission over the island of Nauru in April of 1943. "Super Man" barely made it home, struck so many times by enemy fire.
Louis Zamperini and "Super Man" after combat.
With the "Super Man" out of action, Zamperini and his crew flew a search and rescue mission aboard the rickety "Green Hornet," which crashed in the Pacific on May 27, 1943. Only three of the ten-man crew survived. After 47 days adrift, one has died, and the two remaining survivors are taken captive by the Japanese.

The next portion of the book recounts Zamperini's experiences as a prisoner of war. The war ends, and Zamperini is free with almost one hundred pages remaining. Hillebrand here recounts Zamperini's challenges in coming home and finding peace. I'd rather not divulge the nature of this portion of the book, but it is powerful.

Hillebrand clearly is a gifted storyteller. Her tales of Seabiscuit and Zamperini recount how wounded persons (and horse) overcome. Perhaps it is telling that Hillebrand herself was unable to complete her undergraduate studies at Kenyon College as she developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Her storytelling rises above the challenges that beset her, it seems, every bit as much as the protagonists of her work rise above the challenges that beset them.

Unbroken is a great read, born of Hillebrand's excellent historical work and lively storytelling, built upon the extraordinary story of Louie Zamperini. It will delight in unexpected ways.

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