Books Ring Mah Bell's Reviews > Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
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Mar 23, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, memo-auto-bio

All the cheesy, tired words people use to review books seem to apply to this book: remarkable, intense, striking, exceptional. I hate to use them, but all of them are relevant in regard to this work. I even could use that silly phrase, "I couldn't put it down." Literally, yes, I could put it down, but I didn't want to; it was difficult to walk away from. I looked forward to picking it up again and continuing on with the story of prisoner of war Louis Zamperini.

Hillenbrand is also the author of Seabiscuit, so I was a bit skeptical of her writing about a WWII POW. I had no doubts she could write well, as Seabiscuit is one of my favorite reads, ever. Yet, a feel-good story about a horse is a different animal than a story of the brutal realities of a prisoner of war. Could she write about the horrors of war without doing a disservice to the harsh truths of battle?

The answer is yes. She clearly spent a great deal of time researching his life, the lives of the people he fought with (and against), the battles he fought, the equipment they used. The book is intelligent and she writes with such depth. While some books on war are understandably painful to read, her talent as a writer makes this book a bit more palatable. I do not mean to imply that she demeans or degrades what he endures, she does not, but she seems to know exactly when the reader needs to back away from the horror. With great mastery she will take the reader from the horrors of POW camp to the heartache of the families at home.

While I was skeptical, I had to give the book a shot. For starters, I love the period of time she writes about. (I remain convinced I was born in the wrong time - should have been a child of the 40's/50's or a flapper in the roaring 20's.) Also, I love books on WWII. The clincher for me is that Louie was an Olympian, a runner. While my running days are long gone (and certainly never reached the heights Louie did) there's a bond of sorts there.

We meet Louis as a kid growing up in Torrance, California. He's a bit mischievous and well onto his way of becoming a teenaged hoodlum and then a good for nothing adult. He has an epiphany of sorts and gets on the straight and narrow. Guided by his brother, he begins running for his high school track team. While it's not easy at first, after some training, Louis discovers he has some speed. He continues his running career at USC, well on his way to that impossible, elsusive four minute mile and qualifies to run in the Olympics in Berlin. I found myself swept away, absolutely enthralled by the thrill of his races, his trip across the Atlantic, his meeting with Hitler.

Shortly after his return, the war reaches a fever pitch and Louie signs up to serve. He ends up in the United States Air Force as a bombardier. So many incredible stories of close calls of near crashes or of running out of fuel over the shark infested Pacific. During one battle, their B-24 is hit 594 times AND ALL BUT ONE of the crew survive. Eventually, Louie's luck runs out and during a rescue mission in an ill-equipped plane, they crash into the ocean. He survives with a few other men on rafts for 47 days. They fight hunger, thirst, aggressive sharks; they dodge bullets from Japanese pilots. Rescue comes in the form of the Japanese Navy. So begins a long stay in and out of POW camps. He somehow survives unspeakable tortures and after years in captivity, he is free.

While the war may have ended for the word, it continues to rage in Louie's psyche. Freed from his cell, his mind becomes his new tormentor, disturbing his thoughts and sleep with hellish flashbacks and dreams. He meets a woman, falls in love and gets married, yet the war haunts him and a cloud of misery hangs over his marriage. He resolves to return to Japan, find "The Bird," the tyrant who tortured him, and kill him. At this stage in the story, he's ugly and unlikable (though the reader understands why). Drinking too much, he becomes abusive. His wife talks him into going to see Billy Graham speak. He walks out one night. Another night he goes and is converted to Christian life. Normally, the cynic in me would moan and groan, or maybe put the book aside for fear of it getting preachy... but it is what it is. Louie finds peace and forgiveness. He no longer is haunted by bad dreams or the desire to find and kill his Japanese tormentor. Religion frees him from hate and he becomes a model husband, father and citizen.

The story of Louis Zamperini is, if I may use another overused phrase, "A MUST READ".

You won't regret it.
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Reading Progress

03/04/2011 page 58
12.0% "I am completely in love with this book."
11/22/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Jessica I loved the section when they are out on the raft with sharks circling best...

message 2: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Sounds fantastic. I have added it to the Moleskine!

Christine I am listening to this as an audio book and am existing on 4 hours of sleep 2 days in a row.. I totally agree with the tired word syndrome but the emotional rollercoaster you are on while reading, there doesn't seem to be a word in existence to descibe it.

Gemma Great review! I was wondering if you could tell me whether this book would be alright for ages twelve and up?

Gary Potratz It isn't religion that frees him from hate, but the relationship he has with Christ.

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