Strength, courage and resilience. These traits define WWII soldier and Olympic runner Louie Zamperini in Unbroken, author Laura Hillenbrand’s true account of one person’s struggle to survive as a prisoner of war.
Hilbrand opens with a gripping account of how Louie earned notoriety by closing in on the 4-minute mile, which would elude athletes until the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games.
The narrative quickly shifts focus, depicting how after enlisting in the United States Air Force, Japanese forces shoot him down. He and two other men survived on a life raft for 47 days, before being captured by the enemy and sent to various prisoner of war camps. Hilbrand’s description of Louie’s struggles are equally disturbing and fascinating—including how the men survived otherwise horrific conditions by telling jokes, sneaking in food, and engaging in secret correspondences.
After Louie returns from imprisonment, he is plagued by nightmares about his time in the camps and turns to alcohol to try to numb the pain he is feeling, which takes a toll on his marriage and many other aspects of his life, including his financial situation. However, after hearing a sermon by a preacher talking about forgiveness, something inside Louie clicks. He finds the strength to forgive the people who mistreated and tortured him, something that takes a lot of willpower to do.
Hillbrand stops well short, though, of making Louie out to be an infallible protagonist. In this sense, she delves into how upon returning home, Louie relies on alcohol to numb the pain of countless horrific memories. His marriage and life status crumbles, before finding salvation in God.
As a graduating senior, I have been taught a more general overview of WWII. With Unbroken, I appreciated learning about one soldier’s harrowing experience, which helped me put a human face to the conflict’s wider struggle.
Unbroken also teaches us an important lesson in tolerance; humanity must learn to coexist in peace, or it will face an ugly alternative.