The BUZZ: NYT Bestseller by the author of Seabiscuit. Soon to be a major motion picture directed by Angelina Jolie. Check out the trailer here.
The GIST: Louis Zamperini was a juvenile delinquent who was lucky to channel his energy into running, where he excelled to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. By age 26, he was an airman in WW11. His plane was shot down over the Pacific in 1943, and he survived on a raft for over forty days before being saved by the Japanese. Two harrowing years as a POW followed before the hostilities ended and he was released. Back home, he remained imprisoned by bitterness, flashbacks and dreams of vengeance. This story follows his path to wholeness after enduring unimaginable ordeals and hardship. How he gets to old age with an intact and optimistic spirit is as much an intrigue as any of the historical details.
The WRITING: Hillenbrand is a great storyteller. I don’t care much about horse racing, but loved Seabiscuit. Same for war histories – I’m not an enthusiast. My psyche can handle only so many accounts of atrocities. This book is just as difficult to process and absorb as any war chronicle, but well worth it. Hillenbrand is ambitious in the scope of her goals here. Combining sports and history provides a strong structure for this heavy tale. It needs it. The reader will be forced to reflect upon difficult truths, including our use of the atomic bomb to end the war. Personal reflections are inevitable as well, regarding optimism and pessimism, endurance and defiance in the face of abuse and suffering, and finally forgiveness. Hillenbrand was the right person to tell Louis’ amazing story. He passed away July 3rd at 97.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy it. I will flip through these pages when my own energies are flagging, and remember that the human capacity for strength and tenacity is boundless.
“Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it.”