Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

There's a certain style of entertainment--Herman Wouk's Winds of War springs to mind--which contrives, improbably, to place a fictional character at the heart of a variety of events in order to afford the story-teller to discourse upon them. Laura Hillenbrand had the good fortune to take up the true-life story of Louis Zamperini, a life that seems so impossibly eventful as to be very much the stuff of fiction.

As a young man in Southern California, Zamperini was a hellion. He fought and stole and generally terrorized family, friends, schoolmates, neighbors, etc. But his older brother--who was to remain devoted to him for life--pulled him back from the brink by channeling his wild energy into running.

In due course, Louis became the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic running squad at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Zelig-like, this placed him in the company of both Jesse Owens and Goebbels and Hitler and put him in place for a notorious stunt where he tried to steal a Nazi flag.

By the time of the next scheduled Olympiad--Tokyo 1940, which was canceled--he had improved to the point where he was at least a threat to run a four-minute mile. With war coming, he tried picking his poison with the air corps, but discovered he didn't like flying, but then was put on board a bomber anyway when he enlisted. His plane developed mechanical difficulties and went down in the South Pacific, hundreds of miles from any shore. He and the two other survivors of the eleven man crew were set adrift in shark-infested waters with minimal provisions and no water.

One death and 47 harrowing days later, they reached the Marshall Islands where he and pilot Phil Philips were promptly taken prisoner by the Japanese. While incarcerated at Ofuna prison camp he became the particular object of the hatreds and violence of a warder nicknamed "The Bird," Matsuhiro Watanabe, who by 1945 was one of the most wanted war criminals in Japan.

Returned home eventually, he fell in love and eloped with a young woman whose family objected. The two clearly loved each other but Louis struggled with what we would today recognize as PTSD and he drank heavily and lost money on a variety of schemes. He was tormented by memories of the camps in particular and envisioned himself strangling his captors, terrifying his wife. Separation and divorce seemed sure to follow.

But she had been born-again and she and her friends urged him to go and listen to the young evangelist, The Reverend Billy Graham, who had pitched his tent in Los Angeles. Zamperini was initially offended, even repulsed, by Graham's message, that we are all sinners requiring forgiveness. But on a second listening, the message broke through--arguably, the book's title is false, because Zamperini might be said to have been broken and remade--and he accepted Christ.

He said that he never again suffered from nightmares. In fact, he forgave his captors, traveled to Japan as an evangelist himself and met some of them to forgive them in person. the rest of his long life was devoted to a sort of lay ministry. And, in lovely codas, he got to carry the Olympic torch in Japan in 1988; returned to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin; and not only lived to see this book published, but did the book touring in place of the house-bound author.

You see, he really had a wonderful life.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Laura Hillenbrand Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA Laura Hillenbrand
    -WIKIPEDIA: Louis Zamperini
    -BOOK SITE: Unbroken (Random House)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
    -Unbroken : Louis Zamperini
    -PROFILE: A war hero's "Unbroken" bond with his biographer (CBS News, May 27, 2012)
    -INTERVIEW: 'Seabiscuit' Author's New Hero 'Unbroken' By War (NPR, November 19, 2010)
    -PROFILE: Laura Hillenbrand releases new book while fighting chronic fatigue syndrome (Monica Hesse, 11/28/10, Washington Post)
    -PROFILE: LUCKY LOUIE Lou Zamperini was lucky. He survived a risky, put-up-your-dukes childhood and made it into the Olympics. But in May ’43, in a B-24 over the Pacific, his luck seemed to run out. (Martin Jacobs, America in WWII)
    -OBIT: Louis Zamperini, Olympian and ‘Unbroken’ War Survivor, Dies at 97 (Ira Berkow, 7/03/14, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Olympic distance runner and war veteran Louis Zamperini dies aged 97 (Associated Press, Thursday 3 July 2014)
    -OBIT: Louis Zamperini, triumphant 'Unbroken' warrior, dies at 97 (Todd Leopold, CNN)
    -ARCHIVES: "laura Hillenbrand (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand (David Margolick, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Steve Oney, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Kevin Rushby, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Jane Ciabattari, The Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken )Barbara Spindel, B&N Review)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Gary Krist, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Wes Pruden, Washington Times)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken ( James D. Hornfischer, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Maria Flook, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Sam Anderson, New York Magazine
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (MiCHELLE JONES, The Dallas Morning News)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: for Unbroken (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Unbroken (John M. Formy-Duval,

Book-related and General Links:

    -INFO: Unbroken (2014) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Angelina Jolie (IMDB)
    -REVIEW: of