Tag Archives: World War II

Review: Unbroken


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.

Source: Borrowed

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Review: The Glass Room

The Glass Room Book Cover

The Glass Room
By Simon Mawer
Other Press LLC
October 2009

The Short of It:

The Glass Room is a sophisticated, highly stylized work of art.

The Rest of It:

In central Europe during the 1920’s, newlyweds, Viktor and Liesel Landauer meet acclaimed architect, Rainer von Abt. A modernist of his time, he agrees to build the them a house like no other. One designed with sharp angles, wide, open spaces and a room made of glass. Viktor, quite the modernist himself, is taken with the idea. A room made of glass? How exquisite. Liesel on the other hand, must be convinced. A house like this is not meant for a family, is it?

Once complete, the house is a work of art. Cement and steel and of course, the large glass panels that make up the glass room. As von Abt states:

A work of art like this demands that the life lived in it be a work of art as well.

The life lived within it is not a work of art though. Instead, there is a marriage placed crudely under a microscope where the reader is allowed to view all of its intricacies. There is love, much love but there is also rampant infidelity, lesbianism, and matters of race, religion and politics. Mawer places it all before you and then steps back, allowing the reader to be an observer in this experiment.

The writing is clinical, almost sterile yet sensual. Everyone in this novel is stripped bare. The characters, all of them, are complex creatures but we are reminded more than once that they are in fact, creatures and they often behave as animals do. Sometimes this is shocking because as you read, you feel as if you shouldn’t be sharing this intimate space with them. Yet, you cannot walk away.

Don’t be fooled by the Glass Room. It’s only as rational as the people who inhabit it.

Sharp and edgy, I found myself completely absorbed with the story. What makes it even more intriguing is that such a house exists. Villa Tugendhat is located in Brno in the Czech Republic and the inspiration behind The Glass Room. It was designed by Mies van der Rohe between 1928 and 1930. Although the story centers around this house, the rest of the story is a work of fiction.

Photo of Villa Tugendhat

I did not look at any of these photos prior to reading the book, but the house is exactly as I pictured it.

Photo #2 of Villa Tugendhat (interior shot)

With a large part of the novel centering around World War II, it’s no wonder that the words, sterile and antiseptic come to mind but in between the starkness, there is beauty. A lot of other reviewers did not care for the coldness of the characters. I didn’t see them as cold, but somewhat reserved depending on the situation. Formal, is probably a better word.

As formal as they were, the last page brought a tear to my eye. I wasn’t expecting to tear up but emotion overcame me and I found myself re-reading that last page over and over again.

The Glass Room was a finalist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and is one of my favorites for 2010. I highly recommend it.

Source: This review copy was sent to me by the publisher.