Reading Unbroken was an EXPERIENCE! Hillenbrand is an amazing writer and I see now why people made such a fuss about Seabiscuit, which I will now be sure to read. This is the story of an Olympic Athlete, Louis Zamporini -- a runner from Torrance, CA. He'd been a troublemaker in his youth and focusing on his running turned him around. He was good and probably would have been great, had he been given the chance to compete in his 2nd Olympics, but the 1940 Olympic games were cancelled for WWII and Zamperini went to war. When his plane goes down in the Pacific, leading to an extended (seriously extended) stay in a flimsy raft, you think this is about as awful a fate as anyone could imagine. But wait, things are just getting started. I found myself thinking, over and over again, that this situation couldn't possibly get any worse. From sharks to Japanese gunfire attacks, starvation and dehydration, the situation does nothing but worsen and just when you think salvation and rescue are around the corner, the man is beaten down again. To say this is a page turner is frankly an understatement.
If this were fiction, I would've complained that the author had seriously overdone the hardship plot. This however, is a true story and Louie Zamperini, as of the writing of this post, is still alive and kicking -- he's the quintessential man with a mission. "True Grit," as a description, doesn't begin to cover him. I never want to give away too much in these reviews -- I've never been interested in reviews filled with plot summary that just end up as one big spoiler -- so, suffice it to say, what I've described here is the merest hint of all that this man endures. That his story ends as it does is truly inspirational and I'm not one who usually goes in for inspirational story-lines. There's nothing corny here though.
The book does such an exceptional job of making Zamperini's experiences real for the reader, that I found myself with a whole new understanding of WWII and a bit more empathy for an older generation that still displays quite a bit of animosity towards the Japanese. As a homeschool Mom, when my kids are a bit older -- this is most definitely a book I will use to teach them about WWII. My own education regarding that war focused primarily on the events in Germany and this book provided great insight into what was happening in the Pacific and what it meant to be a POW in that war. I hate learning anything about history from textbooks as they usually render events dry and dull. This book is definitely one that brings history to life in an unforgettable way.
Below is the television special on Zamperini's life mentioned at the end of the novel (Youtube has split it into 4 parts). It was amazing to see the real life incarnations of these people I'd read about with rapt fascination for nearly 500 pages. Enjoy!