By: Laura Hillenbrand
Published: November 16, 2010
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.
What a powerful book! It is absolutely difficult to put my thoughts about this book into words. When I first started reading it, I was unsure about all the hype this book was getting. It was actually a bit boring in places for me. I appreciated reading about the history behind Zamperini’s running and try for the Olympics but some of the details were able to be skimmed. But, in light of that, I truly read every single detail during the rest of the book. Zamperini’s life during WWII was horrific beyond words and imagination. Nothing in my worst of all nightmares prepared me for what happened to him and hundreds of other POWs.
There was one part of the book that resonated strongly with me:
“But on Kwajalein, the guards sought to deprive them of something that had sustained them even as all else had been lost: dignity. This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind. ….Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.”
We live our lives with the hopes that on our last days we can look back and say we lived them with dignity, honor, and joy. When dignity is erased, so is our hope. Louis Zamperini may have felt his dignity was taken from him, but he still kept hope alive. I think that hope got him through it all.
The other theme from this book that spoke to me was Louis Zamperini’s act of forgiveness. I am absolutely aware of how difficult and painful it is to forgive, but also how life-changing it can be. But, in this case, the act of forgiveness toward the captors was like no other I have other heard. We can all learn from his example.
In thinking of the degradation done to these men, it is unfathomable for me to comprehend how they returned home and returned to “normal” lives. I look at my father, who is a Korean War Vet, and today’s soldier’s coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and wonder how they can ever be the same.
I will not ever forget this story and the sacrifices that each of these men and their families made. Their suffering was beyond all imagination and I am glad Zamperini and the other servicemen had the courage to tell this story.
I so appreciated the author’s footnotes that updated me to how certain people had fared or where they were today. Every detail was researched and noted, which is truly amazing. I can not imagine the time and dedication the author spent on researching this book.
It has been released that the rights to this book have been sold and the movie UNBROKEN is in development. The hope is for it to be aired sometime in 2013. I will be there to see it.
Laura Hillenbrand has also written the book SEABISCUIT: AN AMERICAN LEGEND. For more on Hillenbrand, check out her website, http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com/.