Laura Hillenbrand | 2010 | 528 pages
Unbroken is the true story of Louie Zamperini, a man who faced and lived through a level of challenge and trial virtually impossible to believe during some of the most turbulent and formative years in this nation’s history. Zamperini, a precocious youngster skilled in the arts of pickpocketing and truancy, first makes his name as an Olympian miler who, it seems, was destined to break the 4-minute mile mark well before Roger Bannister did- if not for the war.
Zamperini becomes an air bomber in the campaign against Japan after Pearl Harbor, sets out on a mission one day, and is shot down along with a handful of others on his crew. He spends the next 47 days [a record] adrift in a rubber raft with two, then one crewmate in shark-infested waters with no supplies. Zamperini and crewmate Phil Phillips were then captured by the Japanese and entered into the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ that was the Japanese POW camp system during WWII. After two years of unimaginable treatment which had Louie longing for the days of abject starvation and dehydration adrift in the Pacific, his camp is liberated and he eventually returns home to Torrance, California.
Louie spends the next years adrift in a different way- haunted by his previous years and his captors, drinking heavily, marrying hastily and refusing to face his challenges. Zamperini eventually finds salvation and becomes an inspiring speaker and author, living to nearly the century mark and standing for much longer as an inspiration for what real challenge- and perseverance- really looks like.
In Unbroken, you will find inspiration, but not in the doughy ‘face what life gives us’ sense. The story of Louie Zamperini is astonishing in many ways, but perhaps most striking is the manner in which he went about enduring his challenges- he didn’t seem to spend his time adrift and then in captivity dreaming of home, or rescue, but simply preparing to fight through one more day, and then another. This compartmentalization was obviously a survival technique under unimaginable circumstances, but seems to inform the reader that no challenge, no circumstance can be perceived as to broad and too taxing if we have faith in our discipline to chop down every tree in our path one swing at a time.