Nobody can bring accusation to Laura Hillenbrand, writer of Seabiscuit : An American Celebrity, of ever bringing to fruition a half-effort job of analysis when she writes story nonfiction. Spending seven years on this effort, the author has produced one of the most detailed stories of an American POW being held by the japanese during World war ii that I’ve ever read. With the many meetings with the subject at the time of her investigation, along with interviews of family members, other POW’s and their loved ones, reading over unuttered diary, personal letters, and military documents, it would be 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 an entertaining and on occasions heart-warming story that takes a group of unfamiliars and offer them in a way that you actually come to understand them.
The subject of the book is Louis Zamperini, whose life would have been a fascinating read even before the developments during WWII. A relatively difficulty child who lifted everything in sight, he grows up to become one of the greatest track stars of his time, shattering the national highschool 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 commencement of the war, he was drafted into the regiment Air Force and became a bombardier allotted to the semi-unreliable B-24. After surviving a number of bombing missions against Japanese targets his plane goes down in the middle of the ocean while looking 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 savage 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 bunch of the Japanese guards and personnel. Her descriptions of the savagery Louie Along with other captives, went thru are extraordinarily detailed and heart-wrenching. His daily thrashings from a guard known as “The Bird” would’ve been enough to smash anybody but Zamperini endured each one. One thing I found engaging is not just did she reveal names of the guards that tortured the captives mercilessly 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 thru the post-traumatic years as Zamperini’s life spirals downward, and his eventual rebirth as he learns leniency and peace.
I would strongly recommend this to those looking for an electrifying story of, as the sub-title of the book asserts, “Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.” Just be aware, a huge portion of the tale will target the brutality and suffering inflicted on the POW’s by the japanese war machine. It can be at times a really disturbing and tricky story to read, one that will bring tears to your eyes. It is both one of the best books of the WWII POW experience I have read, and one of the most worrying.