Thursday, November 17, 2011

Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand (Audio)

I think most of you know I love WWII novels, particularly ones depicting true stories.  So why did it take me so long to read this one?  Well, the book, which I got at SIBA in 2010, was a little chunky-looking.  Then I heard that the audio was good, so I put my name on the waiting list at the library and it took me over four months to get it.  All decent excuses, I guess.  But shame on me that it took Books, Babes and Bordeaux to force me to read it.  Ultimately, this will be one of the best books I've read all year. 

Synopsis:  Louis Zamperini didn't start out his life looking like someone who would eventually be one of America's great heroes.  As a youth, he was troubled, leading the life of a petty thief and vandal.  But when his older brother encouraged him to join the high school track team, Louis found a positive outlet for all that energy.  Truly a talented runner, Louis went on to be one of the youngest long-distance Olympic athletes at the time, and competed in the 1936 Berlin games.  He went from  miscreant to a hometown star, and his family was proud.  This alone would have been a compelling story.

Louis then enlisted in the Air Force in WWII, and was deployed to Hawaii as a bombardier.  In May 1943, his plane went down in the Pacific, killing 8 of the 11 crew members.  For 47 days, the three survivors lived on a raft, drinking rainwater and eating birds and fish, despite the elements, aggressive, circling sharks, and Japanese planes that attempted to shoot them.  One of the men eventually died, and Louis and his pilot were then picked up by Japanese soldiers, and imprisoned in a POW camp.

For two and a half years, the men were held prisoner in conditions barely survivable...they were starved, forced to work 18 hours a day, and dehumanized.  Probably the worst aspect of their years in the camp, however, was the camp's leader, named "The Bird", who was one of the war's most unbalanced, sadistic tormentors.  After Louis was liberated by the Americans, he suffered extreme PTSD and alcoholism, with The Bird haunting his dreams. It was only when Louis discovered Billy Graham did he embrace Christianity and forgive those who had harmed him.  He went on to become an inspirational speaker and an advocate for troubled boys.  He is alive today at the age of 94.

My thoughts:  I am not normally in the habit of going into such detail on a book's plot.  I like to keep it short and to the point.  But what part of this man's life do you leave out?  Any one facet of Louis's life would be biography-worthy, but in aggregate it is almost beyond comprehension.  It made me close my eyes and PRAY that this wasn't another example of embellished bullshittery like "A Million Little Pieces" or "Three Cups of Tea".  Based on what I've Googled (and I would encourage you to do this...it is a treasure trove of articles, pictures and videos) it appears to be authentic.

A couple of themes really hit me hard.  First, Louis makes a statement that he would have rather gone back to the raft, where he had to deal with sharks, the elements, and reliance on mother nature for food, than to stay in the POW camps.  He states that dehumanization will break a person long before starvation and isolation.  I'm sure this explains why his soul suffered long after the war because of the atrocities committed by The Bird.  But it is a thought-provoking dictum on human nature.

Secondly, Louis's return to Jesus Christ, after his tormented struggles with depression, alcoholism and anger, was devastatingly heart-rending for me.  This transformation saved Louis's marriage and his life.  Forgiveness is a miraculous healer of souls.  Lest you think this story turns into a preachy God lesson, please know that it is subtle and a small part of the overall story.  It was just that part that brought me to tears.

I did bristle at a couple of statements made by Hillenbrand, that were brought to my attention in Marie's review.  Particularly, statistics are quoted that imply Japanese prison camps were deadlier for Americans than the Fascist camps.  Perhaps they were - I am sure she can account for her numbers.  But to me it minimized the horrors wrought on humanity by the Nazis and Soviets, and thought it was in poor taste.

Beyond this complaint, however, I would recommend this book to anyone.  It is truly a testament to the human spirit.

A word about the audio production: Our narrator for this audio was Edward Herrman, a gentleman who has significant experience in the business but is a new voice for me.  While his vocalizations were not all that dramatic, he was pleasant to listen to and soundly delivered the goods. 

5 out of 5 stars                                   

  

19 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I haven't read or listened to this yet because I keep waiting for us to take a road trip so we both can listen. So obviously we need to schedule a road trip!

wordsandpeace said...

I read this book last December and also found it was an amazing book. I have recommended it since to many people. See my review here: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/unbroken/
Emma

reviewsbylola said...

I am the opposite of you. I am extremely picky about reading WWII novels just because I am a little sick of the subject. This one sounds really good though!

farmlanebooks said...

This one is already on my wishlist, but I was planning to get the print version. Do you think it is worth going out of my way (ie spending the money) to get the audio version?

Ti said...

His life is book-worthy, no doubt about it, but I didn't like all the set-up in the beginning. Once he got to the Olympics, then it got interesting.

The cruelness of human beings is often much more difficult to take than animals (sharks, etc)trying to survive. So I could totally understand him wanting to go back to the raft at that point.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I skipped most of your review because this one is up next on my audiobook queue. I'm reading it for my book club and I'm so glad to hear it's great!

Jenners said...

I just finished my review of this one … I didn't love it as much as you did but Louie's story is unbelievable. Just the raft part alone could have been an entire book!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I can't decide whether or not to read this one...maybe the audio would be my best bet...I'll check the library :)

bermudaonion said...

I'll probably stick to the print version of this one. The two suspect books you mentioned were written by the subject of the book while this one is not, so I suspect it's less biased.

Carrie K. said...

I listened to this one on audio, too - and the same things struck me that you mentioned. I kept thinking that any part of his life would make an engrossing film in and of itself - but all together? It's unbelievable.

Julie P. said...

I have so many friends who have said that they can't believe I haven't read this one yet. I need to!

Zibilee said...

I just finished this one last night on audio in time for the meeting. It was an incredible story, wasn't it? I couldn't believe the things that these men lived through, especially the brutality of "the bird". I find so much to marvel at in this book, but the fact that Louis forgave all of his torturers was incredible to me. I haven't had such emotion for a book in a long time. I can't wait to discuss it tonight!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I am the opposite... I dont like reading about war. It seams like a year ago I had about 4 books in a row that were war related and I burned myself right out.

That said... this one has been drawing so much positive attention that I want to read or listen to it.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

WWI and WWII books always find their way onto my TBR. I can't wait to read this one!

JoAnn said...

My book club had mixed reactions to this one. A couple couldn't finish because it was too graphic/painful. The audio was riveting.... I couldn't stop listening no matter how much it disturbed me. I might have closed the book, but now way could I stop listening,

Bybee said...

I couldn't stop reading this powerful book last summer and it's on the docket for book group in December.

One little mistake Hillenbrand made eats away at me. She wrote that the Japanese didn't really get hot to take over other countries until the 1930s, but she neglects to mention that they invaded and colonized Korea beginning in 1910, until the end of the war. Guess I picked up on it because I live here.

The Bumbles said...

So is this non-fiction or a fictionalized "based on a true story" book?

I think you should read this for your next war book and report back to us - it sounded very entertaining and fascinating to me when I heard the author speak about it...

Anna said...

You've never steered me wrong with WWII books. I can't believe I still haven't read this one! Will link to your review on War Through the Generations.

Kathleen said...

I'm convinced! I gotta read this!!