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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Patron Book Review: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Posted by EPL patron and guest blogger, Irv S.

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, is proof that "truth is stranger than fiction."  It is rife with love, hate, suffering, joy, torment, good, evil, resilience, determination, and redemption. The experiences of its protagonist Louie Zamperini would fill several lifetimes. If offered as fiction it would be subjected to scorn and ridicule for the outrageous and nearly unbelievable events of Louie's life. As biography it is moving, powerful, and inspirational.

The author's previous book, Seabiscuit, was a popular success and the source of an excellent movie. Hillenbrand says that she was certain that she would never find another subject as fascinating as the Depression-era racehorse.  After her first conversation with Zamperini she changed her mind, to our good fortune.

She traces Louie's life through his misspent youth, outstanding athletic career, World War II heroics, POW suffering, posttraumatic stress, and ultimate redemption. Louie was the bombardier of a B-24 which was riddled by Japanese fighter fire while on a bombing raid but limped home with a leaking fuel line, no brakes, nor any right rudder.  His next plane The Green Hornet probably should have not left the tarmac, but another B-24  had gone down somewhere southwest of Oahu and Louie was a member of the crew assigned to search for it, or for its crew if it had crashed. The Green Hornet crashed in the Pacific, killing all on board but three, Louie, the pilot, and the navigator. They salvaged two small rafts but none of their provisions. They suffered from starvation, dehydration, sunburn, Japanese strafing,and shark attacks for over six weeks, surviving on raw fish and birds, caught with makeshift fishing tackle and their bare hands.

Louie than became a POW where he experienced brutality almost beyond description. The treatment of the POW's was evil, cruel, and told in gruesome detail.

The end of the book is a paean to Louie, his family, and others (at least one of whom you have heard of but to give the name here would detract from the story.)

In 1945, the last year of the war, the POW's were aware of the Japanese "kill-all" plans, no POW was to be permitted to live post-war. The Japanese women and children were receiving training in the use of rifles and bayonets to repel the anticipated  invasion. In retrospect the decision to drop A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to end the war seems justified. Without the abrupt surrender caused by the bombing, it is unlikely that any of the POW's would have survived.

Unbroken is not an easy read. The descriptions of evil and suffering are graphic, clear, and disturbing. I can't call the book enjoyable but it was certainly worthwhile and rewarding.

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