I have just finished reading a book that has completely floored me. It is titled “Unbroken” by Lauren Hillenbrand (who also wrote “Seabiscut”). This amazing story follows the life of a man named Louis Zamperini.
I first heard about this story by stumbling upon a list of books currently being made into movies. The quick summary of the story, provided on the website with the list of books, sounded interesting so I decided I needed to read it.
I went to the library to check it out, and could not for the life of me find it! When I asked the librarian; she pointed out that I was looking in the wrong section. Out of habit I had automatically went to the fiction section. No no no, this book is in the NON-fiction section because it is the TRUE story of one man’s extreme life.
Reading this book has burned Louis Zamperini’s image into my head and he is now permanently there to inspire and encourage me. This is how powerful and horrific his story is.
In high school I had learned about World War II and have seen movies here and there throughout my life about it… but for some reason the closest to understanding the real danger and torture associated with war did not hit me until I read this book. There is something about re-living the astounding events of Louie’s story through the written word, that makes the dangers and tragic consequences of war sink it.
The book begins by telling of Louie’s childhood, his trouble-making character, and his middle class Italian American upbringing. He then gets some sense knocked into him by his older brother to pursue the sport of running through track and field. His act cleans up, he goes to college, and becomes an Olympic 5000 meter runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics at the age of19! There you go, already an awesome life achievement.
Then the war comes. Pearl Harbor is bombed and America joins World War II in 1939. Louie’s dreams of competing in the next Olympics that upcoming year are crushed, and he is now a bombardier for the army. His life is about to become one torture after another. He is put through tests such as flying in the Superman B24 while fighting the enemy. Surviving being bombed and shot at, over multiple occasions. Then after his plane goes down he has to survive on a raft at sea for more than 40 days, fighting off starvation and sharks. By living and overcoming this struggle Louie and his wreck mate Phil are then captured by the enemy.
He is now a Prisoner Of War (POW) to the Japanese. This is what provides most of his torment and unrelenting mental struggles. After already wasting away for more than a month on a raft he is continued to be starved, tortured, and beaten by the Japanese for more than 2 years.
“Thousands of other POWs were beaten, burned, stabbed, or clubbed to death, shot, beheaded, killed during medical experiments, or eaten alive in ritual acts of cannibalism.” “… of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935 – more than 37% – died.” Pg. 315 Unbroken.
This book provides wonderful detail and explanation of how he, and his many other captures were able to physically and mentally survive their hell. The book also gives grave detail of disgusting living conditions, surging emotions that Louie felt as he tried to hold onto his humanity in such a degrading place; and the many gory ailments that happened to him and his friends.
” “I knew if I had to go through those experiences again,” he [Louie] finally said, “I’d kill myself.” ” Pg. 321 Unbroken.
While reading the book you are whisked into an agonizing mental struggle along with Louie, his fellow captures, his family, and the Japanese civilians. Hillenbrand even writes about the other end of the spectrum; and gives an inside look into the life of one of the cruelest men that tortured Louie… “the Bird”.
Louie survives… hence the title, “Unbroken”. I won’t tell you how. He is still alive today at the age of 97. After returning home… hell is not over. I do not want to give too much away, (trust me, what I’ve already said is nothing you can’t find from a Google search. The book provides the details and events that will move you way more than a Google search can.) but Louie struggles tremendously in trying to heal mentally. He finds a way to carry on with life through wisdom gained from scripture.
I am not the most religious person, and hope that the mention of it does not deter you from reading the book. It is not the main focal point. But it is how one man who has been through so much was able to find a person, aka Jesus, whose words allowed him to feel understood and not alone. Unexplained occurrences of luck during his time of war encouraged him to believe in a higher power. Eventually, Louie overcomes hateful and revenge driven thoughts.
“The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer. During the war, the bird had been unwilling to let go of Louie; after the war Louie was unable to let go of the Bird.” Pg. 366 Unbroken.
I was so moved by this book that it SPARKED a change of outlook in me. I feel like I cannot look at war, especially WWII the same way again. Through one man’s story- PTSD, alcoholism, war crimes, starvation, torture, strength, homecoming, and forgiveness are all things I feel I understand a little bit better. I have never met Louis Zamperini, but now him and his fellow POWs, such as Russell Allen Phillips are men I will think of as my personal heroes.
I mentioned that this book is currently being made into a movie. I am extremely excited for it to come out!! First of all, it is being directed by none other than the amazing Angelina Jolie and is introducing Jack O’Connell as Louis Zamperini. The film is set to hit theaters on Christmas day 2014. A definite must-see!