Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Book: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Author: Laura Hillenbrand 

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.

Review: I finished this book last month and I've been putting off the review because I have so many conflicting feelings about it. Almost of my goodreads friends gave this 5 stars and I thought I would love it too. I read Seabiscuit several years ago and though it was fantastic. Unfortunately, I was overall I was disappointed in this book. Let's dig in.

This is the story about a troubled youth who becomes a standout high school and college track star, Olympic athlete, Air Force bombardier and then POW in Japan. There is no doubt that Louis Zamperini experienced a crazy life and this should have been an exciting and emotional read. Instead, I felt like I was reading a textbook. It took several weeks to finish this (very unusual for me) and some nights I had to literally force myself to read it was boring. There are so many facts being thrown out and one dimensional characters (It was difficult to keep everyone straight) that I had no attachment to anyone. The only character that really felt real to me was Louis's brother. There is little dialogue in the book between characters, rather we are told 'he did this, he did that' etc. Several things in this book also seemed exaggerated, which didn't bother me that much but did induce eye rolling. Here is a quote from the book (talking about a fellow POW) that supports some of Louis' memories may not be 100% accurate: 

The curious thing about Harris was that while he was certainly a tall man—six foot two or three, according to his daughter—virtually everyone, including Louie, would remember him as a giant, by one account six foot eight, by another six-ten.
There is a claim of Louis running a 4:12 mile in SAND at one point and a lot of pages devoted to his time lost at sea involving sharks. Supposedly these pacific sharks had nothing to do all day besides circle Louis and his two comrades for weeks on end. And when one of the comrades dies and they put his body in the water, we are to believe that these starving sharks, who apparently had no other food supply, just left the body alone. Hmm, okay. And Louis, being starved, dehydrated and several burned after several weeks was able to punch sharks repeatedly to help repair the raft at one point. Hmm, okay. There is also a claim that he was moving 20-30 tons of material in a rail yard at one point. I've heard adrenaline can kick in at crazy times, so maybe that is what happened? 

The end of the book left me feeling like another chapter was missing. After becoming an alcoholic and experiencing PTSD, he's cured after listening to Billy Graham speak for a few hours. At least that is what I inferred from what was written. What?! I can believe that this was the catalyst to stop drinking, but how they cured him of PTSD, I don't understand. 

Okay, you may be thinking..this is not the most positive review so far. While I was disappointed in this book, there were some things I enjoyed. I thought Louis's older brother was fantastic, a wonderful person who helped Louis get on the right path and realize his potential (in terms of running). I love the focus on Japan, since every other WWII book I've read talks only about the German side of things. I learned a lot about the Japanese military (wow, scary stuff) and the Japanese POW camps. 

Overall, a dry, fact-filled book but I enjoyed the Japanese focus. The movie for this comes out in a few months and looks fantastic. I will definitely go see it. I think that while I found most of the characters one-dimensional on paper, they will really shine on screen. If you are a WWII buff, you will probably love this book. 

Grade: 3/5

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