Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review

No one can bring to book Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit : An American Legend, of ever accomplishing a half-effort job of analysis when she writes narrative nonfiction. Spending 7 years on this effort, the author has executed one of the most complex stories of an American POW being held by the japanese during WWII that I have ever read. With the various discussions with the subject during her exploration, along with consultations of family members, other POW's and their loved ones, reading over untold confessions, personal letters, and army documents, it would have been simple for this booklet to are now a long drawn-out and sterile story that would read like a text book. Instead we're treated to a captivating and on occasions heart-wrenching story that takes a bunch of unfamiliars and provide them in a way that you actually come to understand them.

The subject of the book is Louis Zamperini, whose life would've been a fascinating read even before the events during WWII. A comparatively difficulty child who lifted everything in sight, he grows up to get to be one of the best track stars of his time, breaking the nationwide school record in the mile and becoming one of the youngest members of the U.S. Olympic team in 1936. Many felt that Zamperini would become the first individual to break the four minute mile. With the onset of the war, he was drafted into the regiment Air Force and became a bombardier allotted to the semi-unreliable B-24. After surviving numerous bombing missions against Japanese targets his plane goes down in the middle of the ocean while hunting for another downed plane. What's coming is a story of survival by sheer will, first being adrift at sea for 46 days and then spending over 2 brutal years as a POW in Japan.

Hillenbrand takes us step-by-step thru the events, introducing us to other Allied captives as well as a considerable number of the Japanese guards and personnel. Her descriptions of the brutality Louie Along with other prisoners, went through are extraordinarily detailed and heart-wrenching. His daily beatings from a guard known as "The Bird" would've been enough to smash anyone but Zamperini endured each one. One thing I found interesting isn't just did she name names of the guards that tortured the captives terribly she also didn't back away from indicating the japanese staff who did their best to shield the prisoners even at the risk of their own safety. Then after the war the author takes us through the post-traumatic years as Zamperini's life spirals downward, and his eventual rebirth as he learns leniency and peace.

I'd highly recommend this to those looking for a galvanizing story of, as the sub-title of the book asserts, "Survival, Resilience, and Redemption." Just be aware, a large portion of the story will target the savagery and suffering inflicted on the POW's by the japanese war machine. It can be on occasions a very disturbing and difficult narrative to read, one that will bring tears to your eyes. It is both one of the best books of the WWII POW experience I've read, and one of the most troubling.

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