by Laura Hillenbrand
Review by Buddy Ellisor
How much can a man endure before he gives up? It is said that we all have a price and a point at which we succumb. But what about a man who was “almost incapable of discouragement”? Unbroken, the NY Times bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabisquit) is a book full of symbolism and deeper meaning for those willing to find it. It is the fascinating story of Louis Zamperini, a free-spirited, mischievous young man who aspires to be a world class runner. His goal culminates at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the games made famous by Jesse Owens’ record performance in the presence of Adolph Hitler.
Zamperini is clever and resourceful with a thirst for adventure. He joins the air corps in 1941 and finds himself a crewman in the Pacific theater on the notoriously unsafe B-24D, nicknamed “The Flying Coffin”. After a crash that kills all but three of his crew, he is adrift at sea with the two other survivors with limited food and water. When he finally does reach shore he is captured by the Japanese and spends the next two years in confinement enduring unspeakable brutality, near starvation and deplorable conditions.
Zamperini represents the essence of man: adventuresome, brave, stubborn with an ego run wild. But life’s circumstances have dealt him a bad hand and he is ultimately singled out by his torturers because of his notoriety. Eventually he comes face to face with evil personified: The Bird. Ultimately, however, it is a woman, Zamperini’s glamorous wife that brings him face to face with who he has become and what he should do about it.
Unbroken, is much more than a saga of one man’s tragic WWII experiences. It is an inspiring story of endurance, stamina, incredible cruelty and, finally, redemption. Hillenbrand is a masterful storyteller who does a fine job of synthesizing the facts based on in-depth research including seventy-five interviews with Zamperini himself. Her hard work pays off. If the ultimate compliment of a non-fiction work is that it reads like a novel, then she has surely succeeded.