What was the last really good book you read? You know, the kind of book that you just fly through, even though it’s 400 pages long. The one whose characters seem so real that you cry when they cry, and laugh when the laugh. I’m talking the memoir that is told so thoroughly that you feel like you are personally acquainted with the subject.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is that book for me.
As I told B, Unbroken is a book that you cannot not read.
I began reading the book knowing only that it was the story of a guy in WWII. To be honest, I wasn’t too much looking forward to reading the book. But, since I try to be faithful to my book club, and it had gotten so much acclaim, I decided to give it a try.
I was instantly blown away by the story of Louis Zamperini. Louie was raised in southern California. He was always getting into trouble as a boy, until he found an interest in running. He ended up setting all kinds of records and running in the 1936 Olympics with Jesse Owens. He didn’t do as well as he would’ve liked, due to the fact that he’d over-indulged on the ship over to Europe, gaining 14 lbs. So, he planned to try again for the 1940 Olympics. However, as we know, that year’s competition was canceled, as most of the world’s nations were otherwise occupied at that time.
Louis went into the war as a member of the Army Air Force. His experience in the war fills most of the pages in this novel. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, because I want you to experience the book the way I did. Not having known anything about his story, every twist and turn in Louie’s life had me in awe. “No way!” I would say aloud. B would look at me, expecting the kind of read-aloud that often happens in this book. “No, I don’t want to tell you because I want you to be surprised, too,” I’d say.
A broad overview, though, is that Louis’ plane goes down over the water, and he’s forced to survive in the ocean for an extended period of time. (Just how he survives is worth reading the book in itself.) Eventually, he and a buddy are thrown into a Japanese POW camp, where he spends the next two and a half years. His dignity is torn away, as he is constantly ill and beaten by the guards.
Much of the book was difficult to read. However, since Louis himself appeared on The Tonight Show recently, at the age of 95, I knew that he was going to make it. (You can catch that video over on this blog. And right here you can see a great backstage interview with Louis–apparently Catherine Zeta-Jones was pretty into him.)
I read the last portion of the book at the pool on the 4th of July. Feeling especially patriotic due to the day, I was moved to tears by the telling of the end of the war and Louie’s homecoming. (Luckily, it was really hot at the pool, so if anyone saw the tears on my cheeks, they probably assumed it was just sweat.)
Laura Hillenbrand has such a gift for story-telling. I have yet to read Seabiscuit (I know, I know, how could I not have read it already?) but it is quickly soaring to the top of my TBR list. She had clearly done her research. As Louie says in the acknowledgements: “When I want to know what happened to me in Japan, I call Laura.” The personal information she added about Louie, Allen, and the other men involved sucked the reader into the story. Like I said, FIVE STARS! A MUST READ! DON’T PASS THIS ONE UP!