This blog is dedicated to the amazing staff at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010, * * * *

From the 1936 Olympics to WWII and Japan's most brutal POW camps, Hillenbrand's heart-wrenching new book is thousands of miles and a world away from the racing circuity of her bestselling book Seabiscuit.  The hero of this book is Louie Zamperini, a young Italian-American from Torrance, California. He was expected to be the first person to run a four-minute mile and after an astonishing but losing race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he was hoping for gold in the 1940 games. The war ended those dreams forever when,  as an Army Air Corps bombardier,  his B-24 crashed into the Pacific in May 1943.  After a record-breaking 47 days adrift on a shark-encircled life raft with is pal and pilot, Rusell Allen "Phil" Phillips, they were captured by the Japanese.  In the 'theater of cruelty' that was the Japanese POW camp network, Louie landed in the cruelst theaters of all: Omori and Naoetsu, under the control. of Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a pathologically brutal sadist, know as "the Bird."  By war's end Louie was near death when the camp was liberated in August 1945 but he was not free.  Haunted by his dreams, he was obsessed with vengenance, and drank to forget.  Untimately Louise had a defiant and unbreakable spirit and with the help of his wife, Cynthia Applewhite, he builds a new life.  In one of several sections where Hillenbrand steps back for a larger view, she writes movingly of the thousands of postwar Pacific PTSD sufferers who got no help for their as yet unrecognized illness.  It is impossible to condense the rich, grandular detail of the narrative of the atrocities comm itted against American POWs in Japan and the courage of Louie and his fellow POWs.  Hillenbrand's triumph is that in telling Louie's story she tells the stories of thousands whose suffering has been mostly forgotten and restores to our collective memory the tale of heroism, cruelty, life, death, joy, suffering remorselessness and redemption.

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