June 26, 2011
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
2010 Random House Audio; Unabridged Edition
Reader: Edward Herrmann
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.
I tend to read more fiction than nonfiction, but after hearing such high praise for Hillenbrand’s latest book, I decided to give it a try. Listening to the audio version worked out well, since I tend to read history books with a highlighter in hand, studying the book rather than simply reading for enjoyment. I have no complaints about the reader (Edward Herrmann), but there were several instances in which I felt the story was beginning to sound repetitious and drawn out. I began to get impatient for Zamperini’s rescue from the POW camps and, had I been reading the book rather than listening to the audio version, I’m not sure if I would have bothered to finish. And yet one sentence has remained with me since I finished listening to the book. After relating his entire saga to a journalist, Louie said, “If I knew I had to go through those experiences again” he finally said, “I’d kill myself.” And who could blame him? War alone must be the most terrifying for those fighting for their countries. But then to be lost at sea for 47 days, fighting off sharks and watching as the enemy approaches, strafing the raft with gunfire, followed by capture and a horrific experience in a Japanese POW camp, in which starvation, beatings and torture (under the watch of the sadistic Corp. Mutsuhiro Watanabe) were routine experiences, it’s a wonder he and his fellow POWs didn’t commit suicide. I’m pretty sure at that point, I would’ve been beyond broken!
I read Seabiscuit back in 2002 and while I enjoyed parts of it, I wasn’t terribly impressed, giving it a somewhat average rating of 6/10. Judging from the reviews for both Seabiscuit and Unbroken, I’m in the minority.