Years ago when I was just a college student and was in the early stages of getting to know my husband’s grandparents, I’d sit for hours on hot summer days and listen to my future grandfather-in-law talk about his experiences in WWII. Granndad had been a POW during WWII, and had been imprisoned in a German prisoner of war camp. It was interesting to me at the time, but it was so far removed from my young adult life that I didn’t realize the gift I was being given by his telling me his stories. What I do remember from his many stories – what has stayed with me these last 20+ years – is his saying, “Thank God I was in a German camp. Thank God I wasn’t in a Japanese POW camp.” Until recently, I never understood what he meant. I never understood how he could be thankful to have been captured by the Germans, rather than by the Japanese. That simple statement has haunted me for years, and yet it has never occurred to me to ask the most basic question…why? What was so much worse in the Japanese POW camps that one would be actually thankful to’ve been found by the Germans instead?
And now I know.
Unbroken is the story of survival. While the overall story focuses on one man in particular, Louis Zamperini, and his remarkable survival on the open ocean before being captured and held for years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, it’s more than just the story of one man. Unbroken is the story of the strength of the human spirit. It’s the story, I’m sure, that many of the WWII soldiers who were captured by the Japanese could tell; the story of the atrocities they endured, and then the nightmares that haunted them for years to come. It’s the story of an entire generation, and it has opened my eyes to a better understanding of how and why my parents and grandparents behaved and thought the way they did.
Unbroken is that rare work of non-fiction that reads like a novel, drawing the reader so deeply into the lives of the characters that one completely forgets that he’s reading a true story. Unlike many non-fiction writers, Laura Hillenbrand has a gift for personalizing the individual’s story and drawing the reader in with the facts, without overwhelming him with trivia. Truly an exceptional read and one I would strongly recommend.
This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional and large-print format, and through the library’s digital collection for e-books and audio players. For more information about this book or the author, visit the author’s website by following this link.