Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 11 Dec 2012
Full Title: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Louis Zamperini was one of those men who had experienced far more than the rest of us. He had been a trouble making youth and later had been a skilled B-24 bombardier. He broke world records in the glorious sport of running and in the torturous survival aboard rafts in the middle of a vast ocean. He at one time was obsessed with hunting and killing the Japanese prison guards who treated him with utmost violence and at a later time became a gentle preacher who visited Japan to personally express forgiveness to his former torturers. In Unbroken, author Laura Hillenbrand wrote a biography that was worthy of such a man's life.
Hillenbrand's expert telling of Zamperini's story began with comparatively light-hearted tales of his youth and his emergence as a distance runner. Although the title of the book spoils the future chapters, she was able to make me frown when Zamperini began sliding down a slippery slope in his youth and cheer when he turned his rebelliousness into a passion for athletics. As he drifted in the Pacific Ocean, the author's words painted an image so vivid that I could almost see Zamperini, Russell Phillips, and Francis McNamara collecting rain water, catching fish, and fighting off sharks, while at the same time be warned by Hillenbrand that what the three men had experienced in the record-breaking 46 days in the raft was something that I could only speculate and not truly understand. As for Zamperini's sufferings through captivity, I tense ever so slightly every time he was punched, kicked, or struck with a kendo shinai. Perhaps what was even more difficult to read was the final chapters where posttraumatic stress disorder drove him into alcoholism, nearly destroyed his marriage, and set him on a journey toward locating and murdering Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a camp guard who was particularly sadistic. I felt that Hillenbrand's dramatic narration seemed to cater to the casual reader crowd, but her extensive research in archives and family correspondences showed me that she made a superb effort to please the more serious fans of memoirs and biographies.
I had noted the sadistic guard Watanabe in the earlier paragraph and that reminded me that I had also particularly enjoyed the author's analysis of how Watanabe came to be such a monster, taking note of his privileged upbringing, his failure to achieve officer rank, and his attitude toward prisoners of war.
Edward Herrmann performed for the audio book edition of this book and had done a good job.
I would surely say that Unbroken was one of those biographies that accompanied history titles well and I would highly recommend it.
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945