Rated 5 stars ***** Random House, 2010. 473 pp. (includes Acknowledgments, Notes, and Index)
I first heard Louis Zamperini’s story on a recent episode of Jay Leno. I listened to the somewhat frail, 95 year old elderly man tell of running in the 1936 Olympics, and recount some of what he faced as a POW in Japan during World War II. I was captivated, as was Leno, and immediately put the book on hold at my library. I just received it a couple of days ago and settled down to read it.
As one of the top runners of his era, Zamperini was on tap to break the 4 minute mile when World War II arrived. He entered the service as a bombadier for the Air Corps, and thus began the most horrific chapter of his life.
In great detail, and with much research, Hillenbrand tells the story of how Zamperini survived 47 days adrift in the ocean after his plane crashed only to be captured by the Japanese and held as a POW for over 2 1/2 yrs. Zamperini and other Americans experienced extreme duress, horrific conditions, torture, slavery, and starvation under the cruel fists of their Japanese captors.
Using primary sources including Zamperini’s war diary and archival materials, as well as period photographs, Hillenbrand helps readers see what was happening in his life and helps us to learn about the great sacrifices made by captured American GI’s during this tumultuous period in history.
As I write this, it is the day before the Fourth of July – a time to remember the cost of freedom over the years which allows us to maintain our status as free Americans. Reading “Unbroken” allows readers to experience anew the gratefulness we should feel towards those from The Greatest Generation. “Unbroken,” and Louis’ heartbreaking story, really touched me. I know it will do the same for others. You can also see his story on video, as broadcast during the 1998 Olympics.
Mature high schoolers, and Adult readers, will find Zamperini’s compelling story to be both educational, enriching and sobering.