|Zamperini ran track at USC before his experiences in World War II. Photo Courtesy of Louis Zamperini.|
Zamperini was a son of Italian immigrants. He grew up Torrance, California during the Depression. He was always getting himself in trouble or running away (literally) to avoid trouble. His brother suggested that he would get in less trouble at school if he had a positive outlet for his energy so he was allowed to join the track team where he instantly became a sensation, setting all kinds of high school running records. In 1936, at the age of 19, he earned a spot on the US Olympic team in the 5000 meter race, having only competed at that distance four times before. He did so well during the race that even Hitler remarked about it. He hoped to run the 1500 m. race in the 1940 Olympics but that was not to be. Instead the world went to war and the Olympics were cancelled. Louis enlisted in the Army Air Corp, becoming an officer, and was assigned to duty in the Pacific as a bombardier on a B-24.
A year later he and the crew of the B-24 were searching the Pacific for a missing plane when their plane went down. Only three of the eleven men on board survived the crash. Zamperini and one of those men survived for 47 days adrift in the South Pacific,the other man died on day 33 in the raft, before being captured by the Japanese military. He then was taken to a series of POW camps, two on islands and eventually on Japan, where Zamperini was tortured and nearly starved to death. At the end of the war he and the other prisoners were rescued and returned home after several months in Army hospitals. Many of the men had lost half their body weight in the camps.
Hillenbrand could have ended the story here with Zamperini's happy return home after years of war and tortuous living arrangements in the POW camps, but she doesn't. She continues his story. Like many returning soldiers, Zamperini had a hard time with his re-entry. He became an alcoholic, trying to drink away his nightmares and flashbacks of the war. Not until 1949 did the war end for him. It was after he had a conversion experience at a Billy Graham crusade that his war finally ended.
Zamperini, who is still alive today at age 96, spent the rest of his life telling his story and working with troubled teens. He has truly lived the life of a hero, one whose story is not only compelling but worth reading about.
I listened to the audiobook of Unbroken: a WWII Story of Survival, Resistance, and Redemption. Typically it takes me at least two weeks to finish an audiobook because I limit my listening to time spent in the car. But with Unbroken I was too enraptured in the story to leave it alone and would drag the CDs into the house after I returned home each afternoon and would sit for great lengths of time in front of my computer listening to Edward Hermann read Unbroken with his near-perfect voice. Loved it! Now my husband is listening to it as he commutes to work. Each evening he returns home to review with me the current action in the book.
Laura Hillenbrand is a fabulous writer. Jane Ciabattari, a book reviewer for the LA times says that Hillenbrand tells Zamperini's story in "a nearly continuous flow of suspense." She compares this book to Hillenbrand's first book, Seabiscuit, and describes the prose as galloping along at full speed throughout the story. She gives an example about what she means and about Hillenbrand's writing style:
She opens with a gripping two-page glimpse of Army Air Forces bombardier Zamperini in mortal danger, lying on a raft in the Pacific on June 23, 1943. He and three other survivors of a plane crash are gaunt after 27 days at sea: "Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting." Spotting a plane, Zamperini fires off two flares only to discover that it is a Japanese bomber. Strafing begins.--LA Times writer, Jane CiabattariTake a look at the book trailer. It shows Louis then and now:
Several of my librarian-blogging friends recommended that I listen to Unbroken in the audio format and now I am going to make the same recommendation for you. It's the best!
30 books this Summer Reading Challenge
31 / 30 books. 103% done!