Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “Z.” It is the last post in the Blogging from A-Z Challenge (yippee!). Click here to read how it began.
Last week I wrote a post that was meant to be a review of the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, but instead I took a shortcut and wrote a comparison between the book and the movie.
I hadn’t quite finished reading the book by the time I had to write my “U” post. Now I’ve finished it, and I need to tell you some things about this remarkable man that didn’t get said in the movie vs. book analysis.
Feel free to read that post before continuing here. (It includes a link to an excerpt of the book.)
Kristen Lamb’s analysis talked about how the movie took shortcuts in character development. That’s a drawback any time you turn a book into a movie, but the book didn’t let me down in that department. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, has an attention to detail that makes her subjects jump off the page.
I felt what Louie and the other POWs felt – the rage, the helplessness, the hope … all the emotions Hillenbrand described. I could almost feel the belt buckle crashing into my own skull when the Bird knocked Louie down with it repeatedly. I could imagine the physical hunger, the fatigue, the pain of standing barefoot in the snow for hours, as one captive was forced to do.
The almost-tactile experience Hillenbrand provided me was due, in part, to her subject.
“Louie was good at really capturing in words exactly what something felt like,” Hillenbrand said in a New York Times Magazine interview last year.
The writer goes into great detail about Louie’s early life, his Olympic quest, his years in WWII (successful missions aboard a B-24, being shot down over the Pacific and the subsequent 47 days on a raft over shark-infested waters, then two years of deprivation and torture in a Japanese POW camp), and the postwar years – the bitterness, the rage, the depression. All the emotions.
And then the release and forgiveness once he comes to faith in God and realizes how much he, himself, has been forgiven.
Hillenbrand spent countless hours (over the course of seven years) poring over documents, photos, letters, diaries, clippings, websites, news footage and other media and conducting interview after interview (75 with Louie alone) to come up with a comprehensive profile of Louie, the Army Air Corps, aeronautics, the war, Japanese culture and POW camps. She saw the horrors of war and yet, like Louie, remained optimistic.
You may say, “What’s so special about Louie?” Lots of men and women have endured unspeakable hardship in wartime.
And I would respond, “Yes, but to tell Louie’s story is to honor all of those who have suffered.” I chose Louie’s story – or maybe Louie’s story chose me – because he was a runner, and runners inspire me – especially those who beat the odds.
And then the details of this life captivated me. Hillenbrand’s presentation of the facts is exquisite and heartbreaking … yet hopeful. Her book is not just a compilation of data – it’s the story of a man who kept getting knocked down … and got back up – over and over and over.
And somehow there was a purpose.
Hillenbrand’s telling of Louie’s story helped tell the stories of countless thousands. In turn, it has helped their families, some of whom said they learned details about the war that their loved ones had never spoken of. The back of the book features several letters and emails from veterans’ relatives thanking Hillenbrand for helping them understand.
Most of what I’ve read about World War II focused on the Nazis and their oppression and torture of Jews and those who helped the Jews. I don’t recall reading much about the war in the Pacific – specifically, about the brutal torture of Allied troops by the Japanese – so Unbroken brought a new perspective.
The book’s subtitle sums it up nicely: This is a story of survival, resilience and redemption.
And, I would add: HOPE.
Someday I’ll tell you what I learned about writer Laura Hillenbrand, who has overcome her own set of challenges to tell others’ remarkable tales. It, too, is a fascinating story. Meanwhile, you can read this New York Times Magazine interview with her.
We made it through the alphabet – thank you for hanging in there with me!
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