For my online book club this month, hosted by Camila at Mattornety Life we read, Unbroken:A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. This is not an easy read. This book tells the story of Louis "Louie" Zamperini. It follows his Olympic career, his time marooned on an inflatable raft with two other men in the Pacific Ocean, his experiences in three different POW camps in Japan, and what happened after. In a word, this book is intense. Normally I read books before I fall asleep but when I first started out, I couldn't do it with this one. I had to read it in the afternoons only.
However, I got really into the book about the time Louie ended up in the raft and finished the rest of the book in one marathon session that went well into (too far into!) the early morning hours. I found I Could. Not. Stop. Reading.
I always thought I knew quite a bit about World War II but I realized, while reading this book, that most of my knowledge came from reading about what happened in Europe. I didn't know a lot about what had happened in the Pacific and how Japan's march to conquer was just as threatening as Germany's. I didn't realize how horrific the POW camps in Japan were, about the "kill all" policy which, in most cases, was narrowly avoided, or the devastating conditions in the camps themselves. As Hillenbrand states more than 37 percent of American POWs held by Japan died, as compared to just 1% of POWs held by the Nazis and Italians (p315). The numbers are staggering.
I was also interested to learn about planes in World War II. For the most part, we think flying and airplanes today are pretty safe. However, it was brought home to me that airplanes were relatively new technology during WWII and I was shocked to learn how many airmen were killed in training and accidents. One report suggested that between November 1943 and May 1945, 70% of the men killed were killed in aircraft accidents as opposed to by enemy fire. 70 percent. It is amazing so many people survived.
I found that once Louie was freed from the POW camp the rest of his life story was told rather quickly, in less than a quarter of the book. Even though the book was long I would have appreciated a bit more in depth storytelling about what happened next. We hear next to nothing about his wife, other than they met, they had extreme marriage troubles, Louie found Christ and that's about it.
I liked how Hillenbrand also followed the story of Russell Allen Phillips, as much as she could. Towards the end of the book we find out that Phillips had fairly similar experiences to Louie but Louie was the one who ended up with all the attention, possibly because he had been an Olympic hopeful before the war.
I'm glad I had the chance to read this book. I found it tough to read but interesting reading as well. I learned a lot, some of it difficult knowledge, but it gave me a new appreciation for POWs and the way that World War II was fought in the Pacific Theatre.
PS. My husband actually devoured this book in about two or three days, before I had a chance to really get into it. I have encouraged him to write a review as well so we'll see if he follows through!