Though I have vowed to cut back on my WWII reading, this book came highly recommended from nearly all my non fiction reader friends. I thought I’d read it before it became a movie and a weirdly watered down Hollywood version replaced the memory of the actual book. I am glad I did.
This book follows the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner and survivor of a Japanese prison camp. This book could almost be a running book, as well as a WWII book. Zamperini was a wild kid, always getting into trouble. You know the type of kid… the one that you see in the neighborhood and immediately go lock your doors and check if anything has been vandalized. Then Zamperini’s older brother got him into running track which seemed the perfect release for Zamperini’s energy. After a brilliant college career Zamperini began training for the Olympics in Berlin. Though he didn’t place, he did wet his desire for a medal and set his hopes on the next Olympics that were to be held in Japan. Unfortunately, WWII got in the way of his plans and Zamperini ended up being on a Bomber in the South Pacific. After his plane crash, he and two others drift for 47 days until they are captured by the Japanese. Then, the torture and misery began in earnest. Zamperini tries to maintain his dignity and sense of self, only to find that after the war he falls into depression and alcoholism until a miraculous sermon from Billy Graham reminded him that he, by all accounts, should not have survived the things he did during the war… God showed him mercy by keeping him alive, and as a result his bitterness was transformed.
I cried abundantly while reading this book. I was most touched by the kindness of ordinary Japanese people. In moments of the most vile evil, the kindness of those who would not be bullied into complacency strikes me as the most heroic. Hillenbrand spins a good yarn. She seems to know what to add, dwell on, and not bother talking about. The book was well thought out and well organized and I enjoy a book where someone survives horrors with a continued love of humanity.