Published in 2010
by Random House
For the last couple weeks I have thought over how exactly I was to review Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I wanted to be careful in how much I gave away about the story because it came to me with little information and thus was a surprise read. For that reason I think it's almost best to keep you in the dark (a little) as well.
I first learned of Unbroken from a friend who told me nothing about the plot except that they thought I might enjoy it and that I shouldn't read anything about the story background or do any research on the book itself before I read it. Now, to do this is contrary to my normal pre-reading method. Under normal circumstances I read a review on a blog or I will read the book description and maybe a few snippets of reviews on Amazon to get a feel for whether or not it's the type of book I will want to read. (Why waste time on books that just aren't worth it?) At any rate, because I had confidence the person who was recommending wouldn't suggest an awful book I decided to go ahead and take their advice -- I picked up Unbroken and jumped in with both feet without stopping to find out anything more.
The plot (no spoilers):
"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." (Summary courtesy of the publisher. Further description available on their website.)
Wow. Where do I begin? From the basic description one might think the story begins during the heat of World War II, but Unbroken begins before then, it starts as most biographies do, with the birth of the hero of the story. The author takes the reader through the background before leading them to the heart of the story -- the plane crash and what happened afterwards. This is indeed a fascinating story; a read I found interesting from a historical point of view (it begins in the early 1910s) and becomes a page turner (by the 1940s) that I just couldn't put down. Although a biography it reads a lot like a novel weaving dialogue, narration, and description together.
On the flip side there were some very difficult aspects to the story. War stories can be very gritty and Unbroken certainly has many gritty moments, which means it is not for the faint of heart. And yet, somehow the way Laura Hillenbrand writes I didn't mind the grit so much -- it was how it was and I pressed on because I wanted to find out how the story would end.
I must admit that after pressing through all the grittiness I almost gave up on the story during the last quarter of the book. It is at that point that the hero, having survived some of the most deplorable experiences, comes out a survivor, but a very angry and lost man. It was here that I started to second guess my friend's recommendation. I began to wonder why they of all people had recommended this book to me if it was going to end on such a depressing note. And then with the turn of the page and the start of a new chapter the story took a dramatic turn that led to a very exciting and amazing end. Unbroken is truly a story of survival, resilience AND redemption. It left me amazed and proud not only to have read such a book, but to have such people in my country's history.
In the end I believe Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is one of the most powerful books I have read this year and it is a book I recommend wholeheartedly!
Note: Once you have read Unbroken be sure to check out the related links below. For those wanting to keep the surprise element in the read stay clear of these links until AFTER you've finished the book. As for the rest of you who enjoy knowing the surprise ahead of time... you've probably already googled Unbroken and already know the whole story without picking up the book so I suppose it doesn't matter. Either way... I hope you'll take time to read this book.
- Devil At My Heels by Louis Zamperini
- SRN News.Com Intereview with Louis Zamperini (35min long)
- NY Times Bestseller (hit #1 during 2010)
- Laura Hillenbrand's Official Website