Sometimes, a true tale can be more implausible than fiction, which is the case in the unforgettable story of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. This nonfiction account begins with Louis, a wily and irredeemable juvenile delinquent in the 1920s, who channels his boldness to become a UCLA track star and U.S. Olympic track team member in Berlin. When World War II breaks out, he enlists in the US Army Air Force and flies the new B 24 bombers. Surviving the training is a feat in itself, since almost as many men die training to fly these unwieldy planes as they do in actual combat. One May day in 1943, his plane is shot down over the Pacific. Adrift on a raft, Louis and Phil Phillips survive horrific threats by sharks, thirst, starvation, insanity, enemy aircraft, and a scorching sun. Ingenuity and an “unbreakable” spirit keep them alive for a record-breaking 47 days, when they finally wash up on an island.
The reader will be exhausted at this point, after living through the long, excruciating particulars of their ordeal at sea. But the relief is short lived, because they’ve landed in Japanese territory and soon find themselves in a POW camp under the control of Corp. Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a pathologically brutal sadist who takes pleasure in tormenting his captives. Louie is targeted by “The Bird” (name given to Watanabe by POWs), because he is defiant and strong. By the time the camp is liberated in August of 1945, Zamperini is near death. Although physically free, the war continues to haunt Louie, who turns to drinking to find relief – an all-to-common story of POWs with PTSD. A transformational encounter with Billy Graham sets his life on a new path, and he finds peace through forgiveness.
Like her previous hit book-turned-movie, Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand again shows her skill for telling an action-packed, play-by-play story about the making of a hero. Her narrative is rich and vivid. Hillenbrand admits to living vicariously through her characters; she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and is confined to her home. All in all, Unbroken is an uplifting testament to the resilience of the human body, mind, and spirit when faced with extreme circumstances.
Louis Zamperini died this past July at the age of 97. The film adaptation of the book, directed and produced by Angelina Jolie, is scheduled for release on Christmas day this year.
Bryan will be reviewing Unbroken on WZZM Channel 13 Take Five morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 2. Please join us for the Book Nook Book Club at 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, September 2 at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague for camaraderie and discussion.
Local World War II Purple Heart hero, Louis D. Kramer, will be joining Bryan for both the TV show and the Book Club. Lou Kramer served in Company B 222nd Infantry, 42nd Rainbow Division. His unit received the “Presidential Unit Citation” and he was awarded the Bronze Star for Operation Nordwind during the Battle of the Bulge.