Wednesday, November 9, 2011

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini was a juvenile delinquent in Torrance, California, before he discovered running, at the behest of his track-star brother, in the 1930s. Louie gained some notoriety as an Olympic athlete and then became a bombardier in the Pacific during WWII. His plane went down some 2000 miles east of Japan, and he and the pilot survived 47 days of starvation, thirst, exposure, and shark attacks in a poorly equipped, bullet-ridden inflatable raft. Louie's resourcefulness in creating mischief was channeled toward survival—capturing food and rainwater, dodging bullets, warding off sharks—as they drifted toward land. Impossible as it may seem, the worst was yet to come. The Japanese had a reputation for extreme brutality in the treatment of POWs, and the truth exceeded even the most horrible rumors. Louie's defiance did not serve him well in the various prison camps where he landed, but the conditions were horrific and the beatings severe for all the POWs there. Reading page after page of this became somewhat of a challenge for me, as Louie's situation became more and more unimaginably gruesome. His survival is, of course, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, but I was even more amazed at the ability of Louie's body to recover from so much physical abuse, some of which was self-inflicted. The photos, particularly those of Louie's crew and friends who did not survive, are gems that I lingered over, contemplating who they were and how their families suffered unfathomable grief and in many cases the torturous uncertainty that accompanied the disappearance of a loved one whose fate and whereabouts were unknown.

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