Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
I was a little apprehensive at the start of this book. Though I hadn’t seen the movie, stories from those who’ve read this meant I knew what I was coming up against–one majorly depressing book.
To my friend, I likened this book to kale salad–you may not necessarily look forward to it, but you feel the necessity of taking it on. Well, I’m happy to report that this is the best “kale salad” type book I’ve ever read. The writing and Louie Zamperini’s remarkable story made this an incredibly compelling read.
“Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it.”
Unbroken is one of those books that will haunt you, the specters all the more powerful due to the fact that the story is true. Unbelievably, remarkably, true. Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner, goes down in a WWII bomber as it crashes into the Pacific Ocean and barely makes it out alive. He survives nearly a month and a half on a tiny raft, fighting off sharks, starvation, and the elements, only to fall into the hands of the Japanese. What follows is a gut-wrenching saga of Louie enduring the horrors and brutality of Japanese POW camps. You will be left feeling like a terrible human being, or feeling that all human beings are terrible.
So yeah, it’s not an easy one to read. Strangely, after some time I started to feel almost deadened by the unbelievable cruelty depicted in this book. I can’t quite say if it was because of the vast amounts of it or because of its telling. Hillenbrand is definitely a gifted writer, but the description of these moments isn’t one where the horrors are embellished so that readers can really *feel* it. They are simply told. These things happened. And perhaps that sort of reporting is for the best. The terrible truth creates enough emotion as is, and to embellish it with superfluous description may only tarnish it.
“When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him.”
For all those paragraphs that are difficult to stomach, this book is still, as the subtitle puts it, about resilience and redemption. If Hillenbrand had just finished the story at the liberation of the camps or the end of the war, this might have actually been missed, so I’m definitely grateful she included all the aftermath. It really put his suffering and whole story into a new, hopeful perspective.
So, even though this book had some slow parts during the start of Louie’s military career, and even though this book isn’t necessarily the genre I typically go for, I still think it deserves five stars. I eagerly tore through pages, anxious to know of Louie’s fate. It’s a story that’s going to stick with me for a long time, and is one I believe everyone should know. If that isn’t a sign of a great book, I don’t know what is.
Have you read Unbroken, or seen the movie? What did you think?