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.
Date I Finished Reading: November 27, 2012
My Rating: 4 of 5
I have been on a young adult kick lately, so this is the first adult book I have read in a while. A friend of mine lent it to me and told me it was one of the best history books he had ever read; not just about World War 2, but in general. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, is well known for her triumphant Seabiscuit (which I did not read, but loved the movie); so with all the buzz around the book and my friend’s recommendation I gave it a shot.
I’m so glad I did. What an AMAZING story! If the book wasn’t so well documented it would be hard to believe it was true. We read the story of Louie Zamperini and how he goes from rough teenager, to Olympic runner, to World War II airman, to floating survivor, to tortured (physically) POW, to tortured (emotionally) war survivor, to a redeemed man who finds peace in his life.
Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up; and that’s where Hillenbrand’s success lies…she didn’t make it up. She spent almost a decade researching and meeting the people that affected Zamperini’s life: family, fly-mates, even the POW guards. We become intimate with not only the main character, but those around him. Her style of writing gives us depth, but personally it’s also one of the flaws of the book. I want substance, I want to know about other people, but Hillenbrand seemed to go on tangents where one minute I was reading about Louie and the next minute I was reading about somebody completely different (and wondering why I wasn’t reading about Louie). That is one reason I gave the book a 4 – it wasn’t because of the story, but more because I disagreed with the writing, or how it was put together. I wanted the book to focus on Louie. Bring in family and friends and enemies, I want to know about them, but keep the focus on Louie.
Another issue I had with the writing is there were times when Hillenbrand seemed to repeat herself. I would spend a page reading about how a time in Louie’s life and how he felt and I would feel like I was right there, eating it all up. Then she would share another tidbit, maybe a couple of paragraphs of side information, which was fine. But then she would go back to talking about the same information as before, but do it in a way as if she had not been talking about it…like she was introducing it for the first time; with the same vigor and seriousness that she had the first time. I felt like she was trying to draw me in…again. And it wasn’t needed. This happened multiple times.
So again, the story itself and all the characters involved gave me an insight to World War II and POW camps that I would have never imagined and made me want to turn the page to find out more. My respect for those in uniform has grown exponentially. The stats alone are enough to make anyone pause. There is not a single doubt that the author did her homework, and the people come out in the story, but at times the writing made the story repetitive and maybe a little forced. I’m not sure if the book knows what it wants to be. While the book seems like it wants to be a biography, I can’t really say that it is…100%. It’s like Hillenbrand wanted to fit as much information about aviation and POW camps from WW2 into one man’s story.
But, all that aside, a phenomenal story very much worth the read!
Have you read ‘Unbroken’? What did you think?