Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unbroken (biography/non-fiction)

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

One word sums up this book: wow.

Though not the least bit a fan of war stories, I kept running across this book on bestseller lists. I finally read one review that said something to the effect of "You don't have to appreciate a good war story to appreciate this amazing story." So the next time I was at the bookstore and saw this book on the front shelves, I bought it.

From the first page, I was utterly sucked in to the story of Louis Zamperini. Born in 1917 in New York and moving to Southern California in early childhood, "Louie," the son of Italian immigrants, spent his childhood getting into every form of trouble imaginable. A daring thief, trouble-maker, and delinquent, he found salvation in his teen years in running, eventually making it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. With World War II on the horizon, he landed in the Army air forces where he became a bombardier. Shortly into his tour of duty, the plane in which he and his fellow crewman were sent on a search mission for a missing plane, Louie's plane crashed at sea, with only three men from the crew surviving the crash. After 47 harrowing days at sea, clinging to a life raft and fighting sharks and starvation, and drifting thousands of miles into enemy territory, the surviving men were "rescued" by Japanese military, whereupon they were dumped in prison camps and spent the next two and a half years as POWs, subjected to unspeakable atrocities, while their families at home thought they were dead, killed in action.

Finally, WWII came to an end, and the POWs were released - those who hadn't died from starvation, disease, or outright murder - and found their way home. Only home wasn't the haven Louie had dreamed of throughout his captivity. Suddenly he found himself descending into rage, depression, and alcoholism - what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eventually he finds redemption and makes peace with his horrific past. Louis Zamperini is still alive and spry today, well into his 90s.

The author is an awesome storyteller, and the book is meticulously researched. My husband told me that I'm the only person he's ever known who tends to gasp aloud when reading. This book had me gasping aloud plenty! It's full of drama and nail-biting suspense, truly a book I had a very difficult time putting down. It was fascinating learning so much about WWII, also. I realized as I was reading it that there are so many books and accounts out there about WWII as it pertained to the Holocaust and the war in Europe. This is the first account I've read about the war as it happened with Japan, and the absolute atrocities tens of thousands of people suffered at the hands of the Japanese. You think the Nazis were bad?

Read this. You won't be sorry.

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