Most of my reading is typically fiction. There are very few non-fiction books that I’ve read that I could call favorites of mine. In fact, I can’t even think of any right now. I’m not sure what this says about my memory or the amount of non-fiction I’ve read, but I’ve often found them to be too dry and fact-heavy. That is, up until now. I recently read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and it has been one of the best books I have read in a while and possibly my favorite non-fiction book.
The cover of Unbroken reads “A World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption.” This book was exactly that. From cover to cover, there are so many examples of strength and perseverance, all of which tell a very powerful biography that doesn’t overwhelm the reader with historical fact after historical fact, but brings the story of Louis Zamperini and those around him to life. I enjoyed learning about Zamperini’s juvenile delinquent childhood in Southern California, his track star days that even landed him in the Olympics, and his early years in the military. I anxiously read about the 47 days Zamperini and his pilot Russell Allen Phillips spent on a raft in the Pacific Ocean after their plane crashed until they were captured by the Japanese. I struggled to read of the conditions and the brutality at the POW camps he was at. I felt relief reading of the POW’s freedom at the end of the war.
I don’t want to give away too much on this story because it really was remarkable and deserves to be read. What struck me most were two things: first, my complete ignorance of the Pacific War, including the amount of American deaths just from training and search missions (Zamperini’s plane went down while looking for another downed plane). Secondly, I was struck by the dedication of these men in the POW camps to remain mentally and emotionally unbroken. While the infamous Corp. Mutsuhiro Watanabe did everything to weaken their bodies and minds at his camp, he could not break their spirit (although, sadly, many did suffer from PTSD following the war). It was inspiring to read how these soldiers from different countries all kept each other going while suffering in these camps, refusing to allow their enemy to destroy their hopes that the war would end and they would all be free. I will admit that the conditions of these POW camps were very hard to read at times that I almost found it hard to believe that such activities happened, but the end of the book is well worth the effort of getting through this section. Unbroken is a heavy read, but one that I am glad I completed. In the end, it was a reminder of how much the human spirit is capable of.
I haven’t read Hillenbrand’s first book Seabiscuit so I was unfamiliar with her style, but reading Unbroken made me admire how thorough she can be and how precise her writing is, while still being a page-turner (again, don’t throw a bunch of facts in my face, I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a textbook). I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to capture all that Zamperini experienced in his life while also highlighting so many other remarkable and infamous people along the way. It was also really unique to see the pictures Zamperini and other family members gave her; I appreciated how it shows a different perspective on this historical time period.
Louis Zamperini passed away this month at the age of 97. I admire the long and full life he led, how he persevered through so many adversities, and how bright his spirit remained to the very end. They are currently making a movie based off of this book, below is the trailer that was just released this week. You bet I’ll be watching this when it’s out in theaters (along with a box of tissues in hand).