Monday, April 7, 2014

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces Bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War. The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

My take: 4 looks
This one gets four looks because it is a true story, the man survives, and he is a hero. However, Hillenbrand would be best served with a harsher editor. While the story is unbelievable riveting, the text is redundant, verbose and, many times, unnecessary.

For example, the fact that these young soldiers were immature and unseasoned is repeated again and again in copious stories of draining CO2 from life jackets to make soda, taking a dare to fly into a storm, and ignoring sage advice of superiors. We get it. They were young and cocky. Strike a few pages here and there and get on with the meat of the story. If felt at times that Hillenbrand may get paid for the word.

If you don't mind skimming, this is an excellent story of the human spirit and one man's desire to live despite the odds.


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