Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Now I will admit that I’m a sucker for a true story, indeed a wise man once said to me that he wasn’t interested in reading fiction, there are so many incredible people out there with incredible stories to tell, that who needs to read something made up? And I have to admit he had a point. Of course there are some dreadful biographies available, some of which I have wasted my time reading, and which should never have been allowed in print, but maybe reading the odd duffer makes you appreciate the good ones even more…?!

I had never heard of ‘Unbroken’, but it was passed on to me by my dad, with a post-it note tucked inside which simply read “remarkable”. Now I often take people’s opinions with a pinch of salt, preferring to make my own judgements, but in this case, my dad was right, this is nothing short of a truly remarkable story. I won’t give too much detail, only what can be learnt from the back cover blurb, but I do feel that it is important that the story of this extraordinary man reaches far and wide.

The book tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a young man growing up in 1930s America. He is tipped to be the next big thing in track and field, even competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, yet when WW2 struck, Louis’ life was turned upside down when he found himself stationed in Hawaii as a bombardier in the Air Force. Whilst on a rescue mission hunting for a missing plane, Louis’ plane goes down and crashes into the sea, killing all but 3 crewmen. Without unnecessarily overusing superlatives, what follows is the most incredible story of survival I have ever come across. Louis’ journey to being rescued begins with an unthinkable number of weeks floating in a life raft, thousands of miles from anywhere with nothing to eat or drink, only to find that eventually they have drifted into enemy waters.

Louis spends the following years close to death in a number of Japanese POW camps; what he endured and the way he was treated will keep you awake at night and leave you wondering how on earth anyone could have survived such an ordeal.

Suffice it to say that if the story was fictional, it wouldn’t be very good, because it would seem outrageously far-fetched and sensationalist. The fact that it is true, that this really happened to a human being, is difficult to get your head around. What I like most about the story is not just the insight into the unbreakable human spirit and the astonishing will to survive under unimaginable circumstances, but also that the story doesn’t end when the war finishes, when Louis is rescued and returns home. Because this is never the end. How does a war veteran cope with such physical and psychological trauma? Understandably with great difficulty, and the rollercoaster Louis has to ride in the years following his return home are in parts horrifying, upsetting and touching.

My dad was spot on. This was a truly remarkable man and I am so pleased someone found his story and is now telling it to the world. Please read this book.