Amanda Gates

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

Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption kept popping up on my Amazon recommendations. This book has 1,430 5-star reviews on Amazon. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Maybe that’s more common than I realize, but I, personally, have never seen a book that loved on Amazon before. I downloaded it to my Kindle and started reading.

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about World War II. I’ve read about the German, Polish, French, English, Russian, Chinese and American perspective. Most of the books I’ve read were about the war in Europe, though. Only Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, which I just read (it was good), highlighted the war in the Pacific. Until Unbroken. This book focuses on the Japanese part of the war and, oh my gosh, how interesting.

The book mainly focuses on Louis Zamperini, an Italian American ruffian who becomes an Olympic hopefully in the late ‘30s and then becomes a bombardier in the Army. The title alone tells you what this book is about: Survival, Resilience and Redemption. The things Louie suffered and survived are completely unbelievable. (He spent 47 days on a rubber life raft in the Pacific surrounded by sharks with little food or water. And that’s just one part.) The book had me on the edge of my seat with my heart in my throat clinging to the hope that Louie (and all his friends) would survive the war.

While Louie makes for an exciting and somewhat-famous hook for the story, Hillenbrand doesn’t leave out the other men in the war. We learn about so many of his friends, but also about so many of the Japanese soldiers. These guards were some brutal men. To learn that some 30 percent of American POWs in Japan died while in captivity - compared to less than 1 percent of those captured by the Germans – well, that’s insanity and it makes the survival of any POW from that time all the more amazing.

The other amazing part is the author herself. I never read Seabiscuit, but I knew it was written by Hillenbrand as well. In her acknowledgements of this book (I always read the acknowledgements), Hillenbrand thanks her husband for helping her “when she couldn’t get out of bed.” This made me research her more and I discovered all about her own story of survival. Hillenbrand suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and writes and researches mostly from bed. Can you imagine? A story like this, with all the sources located across the country, and all the library research that one would have to do? You need to go out and do these things, and she couldn’t. (The extent of research and time this book must’ve took reminds me of Henrietta Lacks and Rebecca Skloot traveled everywhere for that book.)

This book was terrific. While Hillenbrand’s writing is fairly simple and to the point (no long, beautifully written prose here), she can describe a dogfight in the sky to the last detail and it makes you feel like you’re watching it on TV. She can bring a character’s thoughts to life, even though she herself wasn’t even born yet when he was thinking them. I fell in love with Louie, too. What a hero, and he remains one to this day.

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