Unbroken – the Louie Zamperini Story

I remember watching Olympus has Fallen with Gerard Butler on a plane a while ago. It was a terrible movie because even for fiction, it was totally unrealistic. The notion that a bunch of North Korean terrorist could somehow invade the US undetected, demonstrate technological superiority and take over the White House was simply beyond anything a sane person could watch and not break out in laughter. Sometimes fiction can be like that – try to tell a story so implausible that it erases the glimmer of credibility necessary to really enjoy a story.

That’s how unreal the book Unbroken is, except that it is actually a real story. Fantastic flight crew crash into the ocean because a mean officer forced them to use a known to be defective plane? Check.  Miraculous rescue from the crash that made no sense? Unlikely turn of events where life raft villain saves the day just before dying himself? Check. Wrestling sharks out of the water after being adrift at sea for a month? Check. Remaining alive at sea for double the previous record even after losing all supplies? Check. Escape from notorious POW abuser when the guard is transferred far away only to be reunited with him at the next prison? Check. I could go on.

If this was not a true story, it would rank with Olympus has Fallen as one of the worst works of literature in the 21st century. That’s how implausible the whole thing is. The book is wonderfully written and includes lots evidence of the deep research and perspective the author gathered before she wrote it. The 400 pages flew past in no time and I probably could have taken in a few hundred more after surviving David Copperfield’s 850 pages.

What shines in the book, beyond the survival antics and clever ways POWs maintained a sense of dignity is the redemption story at the end. I wish we could have heard a little more of it. The gospel is not really presented clearly and if anything the highlight of the redemption is on a pledge Louie makes to God (“If you will save me, I will serve you forever”p382), rather than the lovingkindness of a God who kept pursuing Louie even after Louie broke that promise for nearly a decade. It seems like maybe it’s there between the lines, but you really have to search for it.

Another thought came to my mind while reading in the book about so many of the atrocities committed by the Japanese during WW2 and President Obama’s recent apology to Japan for dropping the atom bomb there. I wonder if he bothered to read this book (or any other WW2 anthology) prior to making his statements. The book carefully explains many of those horrors, and would serve a younger generation well simply explain why such a devastating weapon was actually the most humane option available to counter  Japanese war culture that was so brutal and merciless.

Strongly recommend the book for just about everyone.

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