By: Mallory Roshkowski – Staff Writer
As my family prepares for our beach vacation each year, I begin looking for an interesting book to read. This results in my avid book club member of a mother to go rummaging through her bookshelf, shouting out titles from her collection.
This year, the title “Unbroken” caught my attention because I recognized the name of the main character, Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, from the recent news of his passing. I noticed it was written by the acclaimed author of “Seabiscuit,” Laura Hillenbrant, and assumed it would be a good read.
“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” is a fictional novel based on the life of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini and his heroic struggle as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II.
The novel received immediate success from readers and has been adapted into a film, directed by Angelina Jolie, which will premiere this Christmas Day.
The novel begins by discussing Zamperini’s rebellious childhood in Torrance, California. Attempting to set him straight, his brother urged him to become involved in organized running.
Zamperini became a superb runner, participating in the 5,000 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and going on to have a record-breaking career at the University of Southern California. The beginning starts slowly but based on history, I knew that the war was coming soon so I decided to stick with it and keep reading.
When World War II broke out, Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was stationed in Hawaii as a bombardier. During a search for a missing plane, his unstable B-24 went down in the Pacific Ocean, leaving only three of the 11 crew members to survive on a rubber raft with limited supplies.
Hillenbrant vividly depicts Zamperini’s memories of the 47 days he and pilot Russell Allen Phillips survived on albatrosses, fish and rainwater while fighting off sharks, weather, dehydration and starvation. The men’s struggle is so well-recounted I felt as if I was in the Pacific Ocean watching them deteriorate right before my eyes. Zamperini did an excellent job of narrating his experiences to Hillenbrant, who brought them to life with her eloquent words and lucid depictions.
On the 47th day lost at sea, Zamperini and Phillips were picked up by Japanese sailors and taken ashore on the Marshall Islands. They were placed in brutal Japanese POW camps, where they were starved, subjected to strenuous manual labor, forced to reside in filthy holes and tortured relentlessly.
Because of his Olympic athlete status, Zamperini was considered too valuable to kill. Instead, he was used as a propaganda tool and subjected to more intense beatings from the guards and the sadistic Mutshiro Watanabe, aka “the Bird.” I despised the Bird and could not believe a human being could be that psychotic. If it weren’t for the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Zamperini might not have left Japan alive.
This novel is descriptive and the accounts of Zamperini’s life in the POW camps are disturbing, so be cautious as you read. When Zamperini returned home he had trouble adjusting to everyday life and struggled with nightmares, alcoholism and fits of rage. It wasn’t until a religious revival by Billy Graham that Zamperini truly found his way and adjusted to life outside of the war.
Louis Zamperini is the definition of an American hero. He fought through so many obstacles throughout his life that no ordinary human could ever imagine facing. His story of perseverance is inspiring and one you don’t want to miss.
Louis Zamperini’s legend is alive and well despite his passing in July at the age of 97. According to a recent tweet from the official USC Trojans page, the USC football team placed a Z sticker on the back of their helmets this season to honor Zamperini.
This Christmas Day, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” will be released in theaters. The preview is on YouTube.
I highly recommend reading this novel before going to see it in theaters. Pick up a copy at any major bookstore today. You won’t be disappointed.