Friday, January 2, 2015

Book Review: Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken

After letting Unbroken wallow dust ridden on the floor of my room for four years, I finally endeavored to read the text. While Unbroken is not new to the world, the book was and is a bestseller and the movie already a box office smash, I had neglected it because it had been given to me through work as a part of our annual summer reading. As an avid reader I love the concept, but I tend to be quite picky on what I read, and thus left it fallow. Then through a series of conversations with runners I coach and an NPR story highlighting Zamperini, I opened it up and gave the text a go.

In some aspects I loved the text, but in others it fell short. Laura Hillenbrand is more than thorough, painting a detailed account of Louie Zamperini’s life. She takes the reader from the birth of a world class runner up until the waning moments of Zamperini’s life, one that neared a hundred years before reaching its conclusion. She combs over what she considers to be the meat of the story: not his career as a runner but his life as POW. The running career made him famous, fame that kept him alive, and as many runners and running coaches know, taught him the skills he needed to persevere. Hillenbrand brings these details out, but in comparison to the length of the text, some four-hundred pages, the running is a drop in the bucket. She wants to tell the story of a man lost at war, of a horrid experience, of a great generation that gave it their all to protect a way of life. Yet without his first life as an Olympic hero, Zamperini would not have been a household name, he wouldn’t have been the award receiving, speech giving machine he became in his third life: that as a war hero civilian. Thus I feel Hillenbrand owed us more here, could have dug deeper into his triumphs, especially those of his college years. So much content, so much that made Zamperini into the man that endured years of torture, originated from running feats on the oval.

That said, her knowledge of his war time experience is encyclopedic. Hillenbrand ventures to dig deeper than tale of Zamperini, all those he came in contact with during his internment ranging from guards to fellow POWs to liberators. These tales are interesting and as a whole Unbroken is a page a turner. The men around him, those that flew with him, that died with him, that beat him to pulp without reason, these men hold just as much substance as Zamperini. All had a role to play in a saga that encompassed the world as a whole. The reader knows Zamperini will live, but they quest to find out how. While the thirst for survival pushes Hillenbrand’s prose, a writing that is clean with a diverse lexicon, the pages turn not because of the narrative, but due to the fact that Zamperini lived a dynamic, diverse life. We thrive on knowing how he will get there, and we are driven to see him succeed one word at a time.

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