Unbroken: Truth is Better than Fiction

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

Started: December 4, 2010

Finished: January 11, 2011

Format: Bought it on my Kindle
Goal: 2 of 25

I was in a reading funk when I came across this treasure of a book. In the fall, I vowed to read more "kid lit" books so that I could be a better librarian to my students. Even though I read some decent books that I enjoyed, I felt unsatisfied, and I yearned for something haunting, meatier, more adult. I need to be careful what I wish for.

The life of Louie Zamperini reads like a modern day version of Homer's Odyssey, and it proves that truth is better than fiction. However, it is this fact that made me put the book down and take a breather many a time; I read this book in short spurts over December and the beginning of January because saying it was painful to read is an understatement. It took me almost six weeks to finish it. This is not the mindless, easy read that I wanted to curl up with over the Christmas holidays. Honestly, I thought about abandoning the book several times, but I could not give up on Louie because he never gave up--no matter how horrific his circumstances. This book reminds me of how it felt to read Elie Wiesel's Night. I'm glad that I stuck with this book because I will keep a piece of Louie Zamperini with me for the rest of my life.

I am amazed that I have never heard of Louie's legacy before this book. Juvenile delinquent, 1936 Olympic track star, World War II hero, Japanese POW Camp survivor, and now an unbelievably cheerful old man who is still alive at the age of 93...wow. You can't make up this remarkable story. The fact that Louie is still alive today is what helped me get through this book. In fact, "Louie is still alive. He doesn't die...Louie is still alive. He doesn't die..." became a mantra in my mind to pull me through the roughest parts of this TRUE story--the 47 days spent on a raft with ever-present sharks circling in the middle of the Pacific Ocean--the three years spent in hell-on-earth at the hands of a brutal sadist whose cruelty rivals Hitler. But when Louie finally comes home to his beloved family who never lost hope that he was still alive--this is when the harsh reality of war truly set in for me as a reader. Louie must face the demons of his years of torture in a time when veterans did not talk about their hellish experiences for fear of being judged or seen as less manly. I don't want to give too much away, but I found the most amazing part of Louie's life came in his hour of redemption and ultimately Salvation. I'll just give you a hint--Billy Graham. You've got to read the book to discover the connection. As a Christian, this is the part of Louie's life that brought me to tears.

But Louie is not the only hero of this book. Laura Hillenbrand is another shining example of perseverance and determination. She came across Louie's story while researching Seabiscuit (which I've never read and another reason I wanted to read Unbroken), and she researched his life for seven years in preparation to write this book. Dedicating seven years of her life to researching a book is one thing, but when you add the fact that Hillenbrand suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome on top of it--I stand in awe. I remember reading an article about her that said she could not leave her home for an extended amount of time because the disease was so debilitating. In fact, she suffered from such horrible vertigo that a special platform had to be built over her bed for her computer so that she could continue to write. I found this piece from The New Yorker that Hillenbrand wrote about her disease. Beautiful writing.

In My Reading Life, Pat Conroy writes, "Now, when I pick up a book, the prayer that rises out of me is that it changes me utterly and that I am not the man [or woman] who first selected that book from a well-stocked shelf..." That's how I feel about Unbroken; this book changed me for good. If you are looking for an escapist, easy-breezy read, then this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for a book that proves the power of the human spirit can overcome insurmountable odds?
Louie is THE man.

The Great Louie Zamperini--93 years young


  1. I have read this books cover several times. I haven't quite got the nerve to read it yet. I know I will be like you and have to read it in spurts.

  2. Liza, it's worth the time and effort. Give it a try!


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