Book Review: 'Unbroken' by Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
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Laura Hillenbrand's recent non-fiction bestseller Unbroken is about human dignity. With it, there is no challenge, no hardship, no nightmare so big that it can't be overcome. Without it, we become a destructive force, and our first victim is ourselves.
Hillenbrand tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II bombardier whose B-24 ditches during a search and rescue mission in the Pacific. Only he and two other flyers survive the crash, thanks to Zamperini's Boy Scout experiences, a few survival classes he took in the air force, and his own determination. After drifting for 2,000 miles, he and his pilot friend Phil are rescued by Japanese, only to be incarcerated in one after another Japanese prisoner of war camp.
In these hell holes, Zamperini and his fellow prisoners make of subversion a fine art, finding ways to smuggle food and information, undermine Japanese efforts to make them part of their war machine, and keep their spirits alive in the face of unconscionable brutality and degradation.
The title of the book is a much needed spoiler. Knowing this young hoodlum turned Olympic athlete turned soldier will remain unbroken and go home left me free to read word for word how he and his buddies endured the abuse of the Japanese. Hillenbrand does a masterful job of drawing characters and setting the scene so that reading the book is like watching the drama unfold for the first time.
Louie's return to ordinary life and his struggle with the monsters who haunt his thoughts are heart-breaking. He is a hostage of his past until he finds a way to outrun those demons spiritually. Which he does.
Hillenbrand's book had me thinking of Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation. The phrasing in that one is wrong because it suggests the generation who fought and won World War II was somehow different, exceptional. While what they did was exceptional, the ability to do it is not because it lives inside of each of us. Pressed to do great things, we can if we believe we can and insist that we will. If you want to be great and you work like hell to be great, you will be great. What is remarkable about Louis Zamperini's generation is that so many did. Their gift to us is the very fact that so many did. May we be worthy.
And may we know the grace that Louis Zamperini worked so hard to find and did and then lived up to.
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