Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand
Before I talk about this magnificent book, I would like to talk a little bit about how I came to read it. At the first Spokesmen’s Club meeting, I evaluated a book review speech about this book, and because of its content, I wished to read it. The main subject of this book is a person named Louis Zamparini, who had a difficult childhood dealing with bullies, a harrowing set of experiences that led him to have PTSD, which I have suffered since the age of 4, and he even went to USC like I did. In short, there are a lot of similarities and parallels between his life and mine that make this subject both an interesting one and a fascinating one, as well as a troubling one for me, as it was difficult for me to read at some points as well because the account was so vivid as to remind me of my own struggles against the darkness.
Unbroken tells a complicated and ultimately optimistic tale about a complicated man whose life has been full of reversals. The prose is vivid, beginning with an amazing account of a zeppelin journey that manages to touch on a variety of intriguing people all at the same time, putting the pre-WWII world into a riveting context. The tale progresses in a largely chronological fashion from a childhood filled with theft and bullying to its first reversal, where a young Zamparini becomes a long-distance runner and finds Olympic glory by being the boy who finishes fast in the sight of Hitler. Then another reversal comes when he leaves athletic glory as a bombardier in World War II, finding initial failure due to his fears of flying. After this he proves himself to be heroic to the extent of surviving an epic journey of endurance in surviving a month and a half without supplies across the Pacific, only to find himself captured by the Japanese and forced to undergo a harrowing experience as a prisoner of war.
The experiences of Zamparini as a prisoner of war, and the cruelty of one particular Japanese guard in particular (whose postwar life is also of interest as a contrast to the experiences and authenticity of Zamparini’s life), make up a large portion of the book, with only a little bit on Louis’ postwar experiences as a highly-sought after celebrity who had been thought and pronounced dead, as an alcoholic and rageaholic suffering with PTSD in a particularly dramatic way, and then as a Christian who turned his life along with the love of a very patient and understanding and beautiful woman whom he married particularly suddenly and probably unwisely (times were so much more forgiving then than they are now). While Zamparini was struggling with horrible and constant nightmares, his captor was hiding from the law and ultimately successful in this lifetime in avoiding a merited death penalty for his evils.
Still, despite the fact that the vivid prose of this book made it a bit too intense at times, this is prose from the author of Seabiscuit that is majestic and immensely descriptive, in a story told with grace and humanity about an immensely worthwhile man whose story deserves to be better known. It might seem as if I read a lot of books that deal with the aftermath of PTSD  or even the experiences of POWs , but for those of us who can relate to these sorts of stories, this is a very worthwhile one about an aspect of WWII society that has not received sufficient attention, and that is the horrors faced by those who were thought to be heroes who had it all together on the outside when that was not the case. If it makes those of us who have to stare down our own nightmares live with a little more dignity because we do not walk alone, that is a worthwhile aim too.