Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is the finest book I’ve read in some time.
It’s tells an engrossing and true World War 2 story about Louis Zamperini, who started out in life as a steal-and-run trouble-maker. He was a kid who’d try the patience of Job. His mother tried to reform him to no avail. His father administered spankings, but physical punishment seemed to have no effect. Louis was constantly in trouble with neighbors, school mates, cops, teachers, store owners.
Louis’s older brother thought Louis would succeed if he were to just receive some positive attention. He thought track, a very popular sport at the time, was just the ticket. Louis loved his brother. In 9th grade he tried running, but the workouts chafed, and then one day he had an altercation with his parents. Louis figured the train would take him away from all his problems. So he ran away, hopped a boxcar, and very quickly learned the freedom of the rails wasn’t freedom at all. It sucked.
When he returned home, defeated, he decided to submit to his brother’s plan. This time it was just what the doctor ordered. Louis ran like mad. He broke records. He got a scholarship to USC and broke more. Louis ran in the 1936 Olympic Games. He didn’t win, but he would the next time they came around. However, the world was in turmoil back then, and Germany and Japan had their own plans which changed Louis’s life forever. He became a bombardier in the Pacific theater.
And that’s where I’m going to stop. The story that awaits you is truly amazing. And Hillenbrand brings it to life with surprising and powerful details. From start to last, I was enthralled. And towards the end, just when I thought the story was over, it took a turn that lifted it from being just another WW2 story with plenty of action to a tale that goes right to the heart of what it means to live. I wept, not for Louis’s pain, as awful as that was, but for something far more vital.
When I first saw the book, its sepia-washed cover turned me away from the tale. But with so many folks talking about it, I thought I’d give the first pages a go. I was delighted, but didn’t make it a priority. Not long after that, my 10th grade nephew told me how much he enjoyed it, and that prompted me to go back (and I’m so glad I did). It’s not that this is a kid’s book or that my nephew has the maturity of an older man. He’s definitely got some reading chops, but it’s not about an advanced writing style either. What is enthralling old and young alike is Zamperini’s story and Hillebrand’s skills in telling it.
How much do I like this book? I’m reading it again, slowly this time, so I can savor every word. Let me recommend you do yourself a favor. If you read one book this year, make it Unbroken.