Monday, February 11, 2013

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Laura Hillenbrand's two books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken, were both nonfiction bestsellers, filled with detail and excitement. When readers ask for nonfiction books that read like fiction, they mean fast-paced stories that are hard to put down. Hillenbrand is a master at writing those books. Saying that, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, is also a difficult book to read, filled with man's inhumanity to man.

Unbroken is the story of Louie Zamparini, an Olympic runner, and one of the greatest runners of the world, whose career was cut short by World War II. However, Hillenbrand starts with Zamparini's story, growing up in Torrance, California, where he would have ended up in jail someday if it hadn't been for his older brother, Pete. Louie was a thief, a troublemaker, notorious in town. But, Pete recognized his ability to run, and encouraged him to go out for track in high school. And, that ability to run carried him into track meets, the Olympics, and history. And, his natural optimism carried him through the darkest days of war in the Pacific. "Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him."

Zamparini would need every bit of that optimism as he became an Army Air Forces bombardier, saw one plane shot up, and survived the crash of a second one, only to be captured by the Japanese. The story of those years as a prisoner of war contain brutal details of the struggle for survival as they were abused and deprived of food, water, and dignity. And, as men returned home from the war, their struggle for survival continued. Louie Zamparini's downfall mirrored so many others. He's a symbol for all the men who came home, destroyed by what they had experienced. In Louie's case, he also found a way to recover and move on.

Hillenbrand once again captures a time period and a piece of history, telling the story of one man. Unbroken focuses on one man, but it reveals how many young men were torn from their lives, and saw their world turned upside down. It's a powerful story of survival under the worst possible conditions.

(On a personal note, while traveling from Arizona to Indiana with my mother, we read my uncle's account of his service years in World War II. Only eighteen when he went in, he never saw active combat, although he was sent to Japan after the surrender. He made the comment that he and the other young men who never saw combat regretted they never had the chance to do their part. After reading Unbroken, every family member who read Uncle Bud's account should be glad he never was sent into war.)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Random House. 2010. 486p.

Laura Hillenbrand's website is

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought the book to read for a book club.


Liz V. said...

This was a well told story. Zamparini wrote his own book about his experiences. Need to search it out.

Lesa said...

It was well-told, Liz. Very dramatic real-life story.

Beth Hoffman said...

I've had this book on my TBR list for a long time and am glad to know that you enjoyed it!

Lesa said...

Quite rough in parts, though, Beth.

Dallas Fertility Clinic said...

This author does such a fantastic job of bringing something awful to life without seeming to sensationalize it. The men in the POW camps were brought to life and I agonized over every day of their imprisonment. This is a truly incredible story, and Hillenbrand tells it perfectly.