By Laura Hillenbrand
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400064168, November 2010, 496pp.)
The Short of It:
A remarkable, true story of survival and endurance but the execution of the story itself didn’t impress me.
The Rest of It:
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
Louis Zamperini’s story is remarkable. Definitely not your average man. He competed in the Olympics in track and field and although he never won a medal, he defeated the odds, competing with injuries and finishing 8th in the 1936 Summer Olympics. Later, putting his Olympic career aside, he joined the Army and became a bombardier.
However, when his bomber crashes, he is forced to survive on a raft for 47 days on the open ocean. This is when I really got to know Louis and it’s also my favorite part of the story. No fresh water to drink, limited food, and the endless sun beating down upon them. Such conditions would break any man, but not Louis Zamperini.
This is truly an amazing story. However, I found that the story was bogged down by Zamperini’s childhood antics. A great deal of time was spent on his childhood and I just didn’t think it was needed. I slogged through this part of his life and it actually caused me to not like him for the first quarter of the book. Hillenbrand’s style was very matter-of-fact. This happened, and then this happened and then two years later…this happened. I was bored to tears.
It’s true that Zamperini was a challenging youth, but really, the way it was described, he just seemed like a spoiled little shit. I didn’t need to hear about that part of his life. He would have been just as wonderful come the end of the story had it not been included.
I will say this though, his time on the raft and his years as a POW more than made-up for the quibble I mentioned above. Those parts were riveting and at times, heartbreaking. I felt that Hillenbrand took great care with the telling of those events.
When I was doing some research on Zamperini, I came across his memoir, Devil at my Heels. I think I’d like it better hearing it straight from him, instead of Hillenbrand’s re-telling of what he went through.
Overall, World War II buffs will enjoy the book. It’s a page-turner and his story is amazing.
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