As we put Thanksgiving in our rear view mirror and look to the holiday season ahead, a good book can be the perfect companion, especially one that reminds you that there are true heroes out there – and that the human spirit can prevail against the most dire circumstances.
Author Laura Hillenbrand, whose underdog thoroughbred tale Seabiscuit flew off of bookshelves and up to the big screen, has delivered again. With a crisp command of her narrative, an appropriate sense of awe, and a refreshing lack of nostalgia, she brings us Unbroken.
If you loved HBO’s epic miniseries Band of Brothers (and who didn’t?), this is a must read.
Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption tells the story of Olympic sprinter turned B-24 bombardier gunner, Louie Zamperini. “Zamp,” the once-upon-a-time trouble making rascal from Torrance, California, who found his legs on the track, setting record after record en route to the 1936 Olympics in Germany, is one of those larger than life characters who transcends his own accomplishments and becomes the stuff of legend.
HIs story is equal parts inspiration, fascination, and heartbreak city. His story is nothing short of miraculous.
A warning, however. The brutality that the American POWs were subjected to at the hands of their Japanese captors during WWII will not only turn your stomach, but might make you angry. Wisely, Hillenbrand sprinkles in the occasional moral equivalency anecdote, such as a Frederick Douglas’ childhood recollection of a maternally nurturing slave owner who turned “demon” at the urging of her cold-hearted husband.
But make no mistake, largely due to the Japanese military and societal code regarding surrender as the ultimate dishonor (resulting in this stunning statistic: for every U.S. soldier killed during WWII, four were taken prisoner VS. for every 120 Japanese soldiers killed, one was captured), the punishment doled out in Japanese POW camps makes water-boarding look like a game of 20 questions.
So there is your warning.
To go in to too much detail regarding the circumstances of the novel would be to shortchange your page turning experience. But consider this thoughtful passage:
“Louie found that the raft offered an unlikely intellectual refuge. He had never recognized how noisy the civilized world was. Here, drifting in almost total silence, with no scents other than the singed odor of the raft, no flavors on his tongue, nothing moving but the slow procession of shark fins, every vista empty save water and sky, his time unvaried and unbroken, his mind was freed of an encumbrance that civilization had imposed on it. In his head, he could roam anywhere, and he found that his mind was quick and clear, his imagination unfettered and supple. He could stay with a thought for hours, turning it about.”
Laura Hillenbrand is one helluva storyteller.
*TWO other worthwhile reads pertaining to U.S. fighting men in the South Pacific: “The Great Raid on Cabanatuan” by William B. Breuer and “Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of WWII’s Most Dramatic Mission” by Hampton Sides; both source material for the excellent John Dahl film, The Great Raid (2005).