REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books - ’Unbroken’

By Laura Hillenbrand, 496 pages, Random House all book formats, 2010, $4.99 to $15.68

Elizabeth Babcock

In the marvelous “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” Laura Hillenbrand finds a worthy subject for her considerable skills — the heroic Louie Zamparini, who eventually emerges un-broken from events that surely would have killed a lesser man.

As the fastest high-school miler in Ameri-can history, Louie becomes the “Torrance Tornado” on Southland sports pages. He hatches the audacious plan to run in the 1936 Olympics — and becomes the youngest distance runner ever to make the U.S. team. Although he doesn’t win, he runs his final lap at a blistering 56 seconds, three seconds faster than the previous world record.

Determined to win gold in 1940, he continues his training as a UCLA student — but World War II intervenes. Finland, the scheduled Olympic host country, is forced to cancel the games after the continent of Europe explodes into war.

Louie joins the Army Air Corps in 1941 and, after many death-defying adventures, narrowly survives a crash at sea only to nearly starve with two other survivors on a tiny, poorly equipped raft in shark-infested waters.

After 47 days and the death of one of the survivors, Louie and the other survivor are rescued by the Japanese. They spend more than two years in prisoner-of-war camps, during which Louie is nearly starved and repeatedly beaten by a sadistic guard.

Finally free at war’s end, Louie marries a beautiful, loving girl. But, tormented nightly by dreams of persecution, he uses alcohol to cope with a classic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Louie is finally rescued from his waking nightmare by none other than Billy Graham — and our hero lives to the age of 97 in a life filled with redemption and forgiveness.

This bare recitation of the plot can scarcely hint at the richness of Hillenbrand’s book. She grows to love her subject — even more than she did the horse Seabiscuit, the subject of her previous bestseller — as well as Louie’s family and his companions in battle.

Wonderfully fleshed-out subplots illuminate their stories as well — but the reader never loses track of the compelling main story.

Among readers falling in love with this book is Angelina Jolie, whose movie of the same title will appear this December. Sadly Louie Zamparini died this July 2, shortly after having been an-nounced as the Grand Marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade. The parade will bestow that title on him in memoriam — a fitting honor for a great American hero.

This weekly column is written by members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Thursday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions from a World Apart” is available at the Clarion, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, Maturango Museum, Red Rock Books and online at www.planetmojave.com.

Story First Published: 2014-08-06