Recap: Louis Zamperini has always and only wanted to do two things — cause a bit of mischief and run. After getting over a childhood bout of mischief, he stuck with running, and by 1936, he ran in his first Olympics, coming in 12th place in the world. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but Zamperini knew he could do better, so he set his sights on the 1940 Olympics. But those Olympic Games never came. World War II came instead, and suddenly the world-famous runner Louis Zamperini was thrust into serving his country.
The story of Louie Zamperini is a true one, and Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken, a compelling work of nonfiction. Unbroken tells the story of the runner turned Air Force aviator whose bomber crashed in the ocean and forced Zamperini to live on open water for 47 days, only to be captured by the enemy and live in several POW camps across Japan. But none of this could break Louie, who not only survived, but is still living a long and happy life to this day.
Analysis: Unbroken is such a breathtakingly incredible story, it’s hard to believe it really happened. Author Laura Hillenbrand tells the story of Louis Zamperini’s life and the war with such great detail, it feels like we’re there. Never had I fully understood how WWII affected that generation, how it created such American disdain for the Japanese as well as the Germans, until reading this book. Yes, I know that sounds silly, but it’s true.
Hillenbrand takes you there with a certain matter-of-factness in her tone. The book, told from the point of view of Louie, doesn’t express a lot of personal emotion, but the facts and information alone and the bits and pieces of letters and journal entries included in the book help the reader understand what everyone was feeling without them expressing it bluntly themselves. Hillenbrand also informs the reader about Louie’s family members and friends, the people back home in America, and how they were coping with all that was going on.
The book doesn’t end with a heroic climax in which Zamperini arrives back home and all is right in the world. Instead, it keeps going, detailing Zamperini’s quest to become a runner again and his post-war alcohol abuse. We even learn what happened to “the Monster,” the man in one of the POW camps who consistently tortured Zamperini. Unbroken is real, horrifying, graphic, and inspiring.
Louis Zamperini’s story isn’t that unique. Millions fought, got hurt, captured, killed, or came home in WWII. But Louis Zamperini’s story, told in this way, forces us to realize how much pain and suffering each of those men and women dealt with and makes us thankful for all they did.
MVP: Do I even have to say it? Louie Zamperini, of course. The pain and tragedy he dealt with are unbearable to even think about it, let alone face head on. But he did. And the best part? He made it out okay.