What immediately comes to mind after reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, is the fact my history training in high school and college did not do justice to the coverage of World War II (and I am certified to teach middle school social studies). A biographical account of Louie Zamperini, I now understand why author Rhonda Tibbs repeatedly asked me if I had read this work of nonfiction yet.
Unbroken, divided into five parts covers Zamperini’s mischievous childhood years, his appearance at the Olympics, his time spent as a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator in the Army Air Corps, his ability to endure life on a raft for forty-seven days, the horror of his existence as a POW (Prisoner of War), his troubled life after the war, and finally, his capacity to come to terms with all that he experienced at the hands of other human beings and offer forgiveness.
As a reader, just when I thought the abuse would have to come to an end, further accounts were revealed in the subsequent pages. Reading through some reviews prior to my reading. one person wrote about Unbroken, “I was bored in the middle,” while another wrote, “It was so repetitive.” Now, for me, these comments beg the question, “Do you realize this is the true story of a man’s life, not meant to entertain but to inform?” With Hillenbrand’s extensive research as noted through numerous footnotes, I walked away more knowledgeable regarding the atrocities a human can withstand, yet still make a difference in the world by example.
While on the raft with two of his fellow crew, Mac and Phil, Zamperini’s faith first surfaced with, “Impossibly, though there were bullet holes all the way around the men, even in the tiny spaces between them, not one bullet had hit either man” (156). In addition, ” . . . the raft offered an unlikely intellectual refuge. . . . his mind was freed of an encumberance that civilization had imposed on it. In his head, he could roam anywhere, and he found that his mind was quick and clear” (167). Thus, despite the bleak situation, Zamperini was able to uncover the good, a lesson to be learned by all.
Without going into horrific detail here about Zamperini’s abuse, his thoughts summarize the truth of it all, “All I see, he thought, is a dead body breathing” (175).
Furthermore, Hillenbrand writes with such honesty, the reader is left with much to contemplate as in:
“Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain” (182).
“Dignity is essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen” (183).
“When he [Zamperini] thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him” (376).
A definite must-read, I now anxiously look forward to the movie adaptation of Unbroken coming this month.