Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: Unbroken

This book was suggested to me by someone who read my prior book review on "In the Shadow of His Wings". Since I didn't have anything else lined up to read, I started in on the book.

Before getting the book, I read some other reviews and story summaries, so I had an idea of what the book was going to be about. A story of an Olympian, pulled into WWII as a bombardier, and then captured by the Japanese. A story of strength and resilience, of one of the members of the greatest generation of America.

Louie Zamperini is the hero of this true story, and I would have to say he has an equally impressive supporting cast. The men who traveled with Louie through his trials and tribulations during the war are also heroes themselves, all with their own stories of strength and perseverance that only get touched upon in this book as they interweave with Louie's story.

Here is a brief overview of Louie's story. He was a trouble making adolescent in California, who found an outlet in running. He went on to go to the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, and had the skills to potentially break records for the mile. However, due to WWII, the 1940 Olympics were cancelled, and Louie would end up becoming the bombardier in a B-24 stationed in Hawaii and other Pacific islands. His plane went down at sea, and he and two others survived for 47 days on a small raft. One of the men died while they were still lost at sea. They survived only to be captured by the Japanese, and put into prison camps that made surviving in a life raft seem like a cakewalk. In these prison camps, Louie and the other prisoners experienced tortures and starvation, especially at the hands of the prison guard nicknamed the "Bird." Liberation came with the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the initial joy of freedom, followed by the haunting memories and struggle to return to a normal life. Louie was 'liberated' again when attending a Billy Graham revival.

For me, this book was a glimpse into the happenings of WWII in the Pacific. When I think of WWII, I think of Pearl Harbor, and then immediately shift my thinking to Europe and driving back the German army. Of 'D-day', and concentration camps. I watched re-runs of "Hogan's Heroes" on TV, and other European-front based war movies. "Broken" provided a view of WWII that I rarely if ever think about. Especially some of the background on the Japanese advances and goals. This now seems somewhat ironic to me, as my grandfather was stationed in the Pacific during the war, and my mom has a picture of him in front of the "Enola Gay" B-29 bomber that carried the "little boy" to Hiroshima. But that is about all I know, as I don't remember discussions about WWII happening much when I was growing up.

I've taken three business trips to Japan, all in the Osaka/Kobe area, and have thoroughly enjoyed every single trip. The atmosphere I experienced there absolutely did not resonate with the sentiments that are talked about for nearly the entire book in regards to Japanese attitudes, at least of the leadership of the time. Near the end of the book, there was a discussion on the quick repair of US/Japan relations shortly after the war that cleared up some of my confusion. But I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised, as I don't generally think negatively about the relationship the US has with Germany given the similar history during the same time period. In my opinion, there were atrocities committed on all sides, but I have to believe that most people are not war mongering and want peaceful coexistence. Or maybe I'm just very optimistic and naive.

I've heard that there is a movie being filmed about Louie's story, and that Angelina Jolie is directing it (she directs???). The preview seems to at least show many of the highlights of the story that are in the book, and could be quite the show to see.