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Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Title: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption 
Author: Hillenbrand, Laura 
Released: 2010-11-01 
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group - US 
ISBN: 9781400064168 
Format: Hardcover 
Category:  
Last Updated: 2017-05-31 
Rating: 1 
Pages: 496 
Description:
Synopsis
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant's name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he'd been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man's journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

Biography
Though Laura Hillenbrand had been writing about thoroughbred racing since 1988 as a contributing writer/editor for Equus magazine and other publications, it was her riveting 2001 retelling of the super-inspirational Seabiscuit saga that captured the nation's attention.

Editorial Reviews -

Unbroken

The Barnes & Noble Review
Almost three quarters into Unbroken, the book's subject, World War II airman Louis Zamperini, is transferred from one Japanese POW camp, Omori, to another, called Naoetsu. When Laura Hillenbrand writes, "Of the many hells that Louie had known in this war, this place would be the worst," the effect is jarring. By this point in the narrative Zamperini has already crashed into the Pacific, drifted on a life raft for 47 days surviving on little more than rainwater, been captured by the Japanese, and been beaten and nearly starved at three previous camps. How much more can he take?

Things do get worse at Naoetsu: under the sadistic rule of Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe, called the Bird by prisoners, Louie (as he's referred to throughout the book) is forced into slave labor and falls gravely ill before the camp's liberation in August 1945. It is Hillenbrand's great accomplishment that the heart of Unbroken, describing the more than two brutal years between Louie's crash and his unlikely return home, is not an exhausting catalog of misery but a suspenseful and at times uplifting testament to human survival. And just as Hillenbrand's previous book, Seabiscuit, was about more than a horse, so Unbroken ends up being about more than the punishing wartime experiences of one man.

Louis Zamperini, son of Italian immigrants, was born in 1917 and grew up in Torrance, California. According to Hillenbrand, he was "untamable" in childhood, picking up smoking at age 5 and drinking at 8. He seemed to be headed for a life of crime until his older brother, Pete, began coaching him in track. Louie, a naturally gifted runner, immediately started winning meets and breaking records, and he ended up representing the United States in the 5000-meter race at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He didn't win, but his performance impressed Hitler, who asked to meet him.

Louie's dreams of medaling at the 1940 Olympics were of course dashed by the war. As an Army Air Forces bombardier, Louie -- under the assured flying of Russell Allen Phillips, piloting a B-24 -- participated in a number of combat missions in the Pacific theater. But it was a rescue mission that sent Louie, Phillips, and nine other men into the air on May 27, 1943, searching for a B-24 that had gone down. When their plane crashed in turn, only Louie, Phillips, and one other man, a tail gunner named Francis "Mac" McNamara, survived.

Hillenbrand describes the men's 47-day ordeal at sea in wrenching detail, including the constant circling of sharks, an attack by a Japanese bomber on the 27th day, and Mac's death on the 33rd. By the time they reached land, having drifted 2000 miles to the Marshall Islands, each man had lost at least half his body weight. While Louie and Phillips were treated kindly by the stunned Japanese who found them, they were soon transferred to Kwajalein, nicknamed Execution Island, where, separated into tiny, sweltering, dark cells teeming with lice, mosquitoes, and maggots, Louie actually "missed the raft."

As Unbroken recounts the trials that Louie faced during and after the war (much of the narrative is based on interviews with him), Hillenbrand often pulls back to paint a broader picture. An exhaustive researcher, she provides context on everything from wartime flight (in the Pacific theater, "for every plane lost in combat, some six planes were lost in accidents," and search planes may have been more likely to go down than to find the men they were searching for) to the neglected stories of Pacific POWs. "Of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935 -- more than 37 percent -- died. By comparison, only 1 percent of Americans held by the Nazis and Italians died," she writes, explaining that the Japanese contempt for POWs was rooted in a cultural belief that "to be captured in war was intolerably shameful."

Hillenbrand also paces the book expertly, inserting affirming moments of grace and heroism just when the narrative is getting unbearably grim. She describes the kindnesses of several Japanese guards and POWs -- including Louie, who once gave his ration to a critically ill friend, calling it "the hardest and easiest thing he ever did." She also details the "humming underground of defiance" that existed at the camps, the risky acts of rebellion through which captives communicated war news to each other and stole food. Louie was even able to keep a diary with a tiny book made of flattened rice paste sewn into pages.

Now 93, the remarkable Zamperini has outlived his siblings, his wife, and most everyone he served with. His first years home were clouded by nightmares, heavy drinking, and an obsession with revenge, and he credits a conversion at a revival led by a young Billy Graham with turning his life around. Louie (who told his own story in a 2003 autobiography, Devil at My Heels) eventually founded a camp for troubled boys. He has visited Japan and met with some of his former captors. He's carried the Olympic torch at five different Games. The book includes a photograph of him riding a skateboard at 81.

But, as Hillenbrand seems to acknowledge by dedicating Unbroken to "the wounded and the lost," the book is haunted by the presence of those who didn't survive the war. In Louie's cell at Execution Island someone had carved the names of nine marines who'd been captured there and, Louie learned, executed. He carved his name alongside theirs but, of course, met a different fate. While Louis Zamperini is probably -- and deservedly -- about to become as well known as Seabiscuit, it's difficult to read Unbroken without thinking of all the lives cut short and stories never told.

--Barbara Spindel

From Barnes & Noble
In May 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific and quickly sank, leaving behind only two survivors bobbing helplessly in the restless seas. One of them was Louis Zamperini, a 26-year-old airman who had overcome a troubled past to become an Olympic athlete. After 47 perilous days adrift on a raft, Zamperini and his companion survivor were rescued by the Japanese navy. He remained a prisoner of war until the end of hostilities. This riveting narrative by the author of Seabiscuit is the story of one plucky man. Now ninety-three, Louis Zamperini lives on.

From the Publisher
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant's name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he'd been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man's journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin
Just as she demonstrated in Seabiscuit, Ms. Hillenbrand is a muscular, dynamic storyteller...Her command of the action-adventure idiom is more than enough to hold interest. But she happens also to have located a tale full of unforgettable characters, multi-hanky moments and wild turns. And if some of it sounds too much like pulp fiction to be true, Ms. Hillenbrand has also done a bang-up research job...[Unbroken]manages to be as exultant as Seabiscuit as it tells a much more harrowing, less heart-warming story.

Publishers Weekly
From the 1936 Olympics to WWII Japan's most brutal POW camps, Hillenbrand's heart-wrenching new book is thousands of miles and a world away from the racing circuit of her bestselling Seabiscuit. But it's just as much a page-turner, and its hero, Louie Zamperini, is just as loveable: a disciplined champion racer who ran in the Berlin Olympics, he's a wit, a prankster, and a reformed juvenile delinquent who put his thieving skills to good use in the POW camps, In other words, Louie is a total charmer, a lover of life--whose will to live is cruelly tested when he becomes an Army Air Corps bombardier in 1941. The young Italian-American from Torrance, Calif., was expected to be the first to run a four-minute mile. After an astonishing but losing race at the 1936 Olympics, Louie was hoping for gold in the 1940 games. But war ended those dreams forever. In May 1943 his B-24 crashed into the Pacific. After a record-breaking 47 days adrift on a shark-encircled life raft with his pal and pilot, Russell Allen "Phil" Phillips, they were captured by the Japanese. In the "theater of cruelty" that was the Japanese POW camp network, Louie landed in the cruelest theaters of all: Omori and Naoetsu, under the control of Corp. Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a pathologically brutal sadist (called the Bird by camp inmates) who never killed his victims outright--his pleasure came from their slow, unending torment. After one beating, as Watanabe left Louie's cell, Louie saw on his face a "soft languor.... It was an expression of sexual rapture." And Louie, with his defiant and unbreakable spirit, was Watanabe's victim of choice. By war's end, Louie was near death. When Naoetsu was liberated in mid-August 1945, a depleted Louie's only thought was "I'm free! I'm free! I'm free!" But as Hillenbrand shows, Louie was not yet free. Even as, returning stateside, he impulsively married the beautiful Cynthia Applewhite and tried to build a life, Louie remained in the Bird's clutches, haunted in his dreams, drinking to forget, and obsessed with vengeance. In one of several sections where Hillenbrand steps back for a larger view, she writes movingly of the thousands of postwar Pacific PTSD sufferers. With no help for their as yet unrecognized illness, Hillenbrand says, "there was no one right way to peace; each man had to find his own path...." The book's final section is the story of how, with Cynthia's help, Louie found his path. It is impossible to condense the rich, granular detail of Hillenbrand's narrative of the atrocities committed (one man was exhibited naked in a Tokyo zoo for the Japanese to "gawk at his filthy, sore-encrusted body") against American POWs in Japan, and the courage of Louie and his fellow POWs, who made attempts on Watanabe's life, committed sabotage, and risked their own lives to save others. Hillenbrand's triumph is that in telling Louie's story (he's now in his 90s), she tells the stories of thousands whose suffering has been mostly forgotten. She restores to our collective memory this tale of heroism, cruelty, life, death, joy, suffering, remorselessness, and redemption. (Nov.) -Reviewed by Sarah F. Gold

Booklist

- Booklist
"[Hillenbrand's] skills are as polished as ever, and like its predecessor, this book has an impossible-to-put-down quality that one commonly associates with good thrillers."

Kirkus Reviews

- Kirkus Reviews
"[Hillenbrand] returns with another dynamic, well-researched story of guts overcoming odds...Alternately stomach-wrenching, anger-arousing and spirit-lifting-and always gripping."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

- Publishers Weekly
"Heart-wrenching...It is impossible to condense the rich, granular detail of Hillenbrand's narrative...[her] triumph is that in telling Louie's story (he's now in his 90s), she tells the stories of thousands whose suffering has been mostly forgotten. She restores to our collective memory this tale of heroism, cruelty, life, death, joy, suffering, remorselessness, and redemption."

Library Journal
The author of Seabiscuit now brings us a biography of World War II prisoner of war survivor Louis Zamperini (b. 1917). A track athlete at the 1936 Munich Olympics, Zamperini became a B-24 crewman in the U.S. Army Air Force. When his plane went down in the Pacific in 1943, he spent 47 days in a life raft, then was picked up by a Japanese ship and survived starvation and torture in labor camps. Eventually repatriated, he had a spiritual rebirth and returned to Japan to promote forgiveness and healing. Because of the author's popularity, libraries will want this book both for general readers who like a good story and for World War II history buffs; however, it's not essential reading for those who read Zamperini's autobiography, Devil at My Heels, with David Rensin, in its 2003 edition. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/10.]

What People Are Saying
"Unbroken is too much book to hope for: a hell ride of a story in the grip of the one writer who can handle it. Killing sharks with his bare hands...outracing Olympic runners...outwitting one of the most notorious fiends to stalk Japan's POW camps - when it comes to courage, humanity, and impossible adventure, few will ever match "the boy terror of Torrance," and few but the author of Seabicuit could tell his tale with such humanity and dexterity. Laura Hillenbrand has given us a new national treasure."
- Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

What People Are Saying
"Hillenbrand has once again brought to life the true story of a forgotten hero, and reminded us how lucky we are to have her, one of our best writers of narrative history. You don't have to be a sports fan or a war-history buff to devour this book-you just have to love great storytelling."
- Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks