Diana's Reviews > Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
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Jun 07, 11

Read from April 27 to June 07, 2011

Hillenbrand did a bang-up job on SEABISCUIT, and this novel is as compelling from its first page. Can't wait to continue reading it.

After the intro, it becomes less compelling...in fact, almost downright boring as she sets up the character. It's a top-level description and he's just not very interesting to me. Because it's by Hillenbrand, I continued reading; and about 25% thru, the story suddenly changes and becomes very gripping. I'm not halfway through the book, but unable to put it down--and I see that the "boring part" was necessary to believe in the protagonist's grit and determination.

I'd recommend this book with the caveat that there'll be a boring section to cover before the "real story" starts in earnest. After that, it's mostly a roller coaster. BTW, UNBROKEN is a true story.

Because it's true, it's also horrendous. The brutality of war, and specifically relative to POWs in Japanese prison camps is a key topic. One sub-theme is the incredible competition between two determined men: Louie and The Bird. Where Hillenbrand falls short is indicating that The Bird after the war became a non-destructive individual, without explaining how such changes in his behavior might have been possible.

I'm giving this book only 3 stars, because I never understood the characters completely, and because the psychological elements, beyond what Hillenbrand could evaluate and report, remained superficial. Technically, Hillenbrand is a superb writer, quite involved with her subject, and the book's middle is a gripping, eye-opening read to those of us without memory of World War Two details.
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Elaine I just finished this as an audio book on my phone. I found my self driving slowly and the long way so I could "read" longer. After finishing the book check out the main characters web page, amazing man. I also did not realize that Ms. Hillenbrand suffers from a terrible disease and still manages to complete books of this caliber. Makes me thankful for the get up and go I have and not to waste it.


Diana Elaine wrote: "I just finished this as an audio book on my phone. I found my self driving slowly and the long way so I could "read" longer. After finishing the book check out the main characters web page, amazi..."

I cannot believe the inhumanity of war, particularly preceding our current communications abilities (Japanese prision camps, German concentration camps). There might yet be "secret places" where known rules of engagement don't count. Certainly we hear of incredible brutality in some African countries and among Middle East societies. Yes, this incredible survival story forces us to assess our strengths against odds we'd totally be unprepared for, and makes us more respectful of the human body's ability to take insult after insult to an extent previously unimaginable to me. (I can't help visualizing a movie that David Lean might have created from this book.)


Suzanne Just for clarity: This is not a novel. It's true, amazing as that seems.


Diana Yes and the story is impressive. However, it raises huge questions beyond the facts alone. The larger questions are: (1)What psychological elements create an ability to survive incredibly brutal, ongoing handling? (2) How does an entire society inflict brutality on victims and then shift away and eventually into another mode of behavior? Hillenbrand's work becomes less interesting in its ongoing grind of facts than the larger questions it raises. The work seems incomplete.


Oluwolebankole i think your first question was answered in the book; the picture of zamperini's childhood, his consistent can-do attitude, the raft-episode and how two people survived but one didnt. your second question is a good one and certainly a natural extension but i think it's fair to say that might be beyond the scope of the book.


Diana Certainly Hillenbrand tried to explain Zamperini's pluck through a superficial survey of his youthful development. Many individuals appear similar in determination and assertion but couldn't have made it through Zamperini's adult trials and tribulations. How "Z" managed to survive his long internment didn't get answered adequately in my opinion. It's incumbent upon an author to point out questions that might arise beyond the scope of a work, and at least explain that larger questions might have to be answered by additional explorations. I felt that Hillenbrand dropped large and critical issues. Overall it's a good read, and Hillenbrand (an excellent technical writer) did a reasonable but incomplete job.


Oluwolebankole I understand your perspective. Before reading this, I read Strong Willed Child and had similar discussions - that trace 'conquests' in adulthood back to childhood 'exuberance' - so Laura's recap of Z's childhood made a natural connection for me, but I can see how others might draw different conclusions.

Your point about anticipating and addressing extensions of the immediate body of work is well taken. Great 'sharpening' advice if I ever decide to write :). That being said, the subjective nature of some of the topics dealt with in unbroken could make that a very tall mountain to climb for the author. All in all, good commentary, thanks for the insight.


Diana And thank YOU for your insights. I'll read "Strong Willed Child."


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