If not for book club, I probably never would have read this book. I'd heard how wonderful it was, but biographies are usually not my cup of tea. I think Unbroken may have changed my feelings, though. It was amazing. I credit that to the author, Laura Hillenbrand, and the subject, Louis Zamperini. (You may have heard of Laura already; she also wrote Seabiscuit.) She knows how to pick fascinating stories and how to write about 'em!
I'll admit I only had a vague idea of the book's topic when I started reading - a few assumptions based on the title. (Imagine my surprise when the preface told of a castaway and the first chapter started with a twelve-year-old boy.) This book tells about Louis Zamperini's life, from childhood through fairly recently, when Laura interviewed him for the book, but most of the story focuses on his life from the late 1930s to early 1950s.
He was a runner with an impressive track record - and even made it to the 1936 Olympics! It didn't go exactly as planned, so he was determined to perform better in 1940. But WWII got in the way and he ended up joining the Army Air Force as a bombardier. Unfortunately, his bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He survived, but the obstacles abound . .
I learned so much - about the US military, aircraft, and practices, differences between American culture and Japanese (very few Japanese soldiers were ever captured because it was considered more honorable to die than be taken as a POW). I'm sure there are tons of nonfiction texts that cover those same topics. But what sets this apart is that for much of the book, I didn't feel like I was reading nonfiction. It felt like a fiction text: very detailed, tons of dialogue, and compelling writing.
There were some sections where Laura stepped away from Louis and wrote more traditional nonfiction stuff to provide background knowledge for the next portion of the story. I was grateful for it, and those sections show how truly extraordinary Zamperini's survival was. But, she did it in a way that never took the focus off his story, though, and that was what really impressed me.
I really loved Louis by the end. He is so relatable! Since Laura interviewed him to write this book, I knew he survived everything, but there were some dark moments when I wondered how this could ever end well? I cheered him on through those struggles and was so happy every time he turned a corner (and there were plenty)! Fair warning: a good chunk of the book details Louis' experience in a POW camp and it's not for the faint at heart. There were some really, really disturbing parts . . made me grateful I'm a woman and will (hopefully) never experience anything like it. But Louis survived! and went on to enjoy a long, happy life :)
I can't say enough good things about this book - you should read it! :)
Next month - The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.