Have you ever read something so FANTASTIC that you kept putting the book down and saying, “NO WAY!” And then a few minutes later, you repeat the thought as you read a little further: “NO DARN WAY!”
That’s what happened to me when I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. This book was an incredible tale of one man’s struggles against daunting odds time and time…and time and time again.
If you’ve ever seen Brian Regan’s skit about the man walking on the moon topping everyone else’s stories at a party, you’ll understand this next part. Watch it if you haven’t seen it. It’s funny!
You can go elsewhere to read a normal review, but for mine I’m going to do a bug’s eye view into a party where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Louis Zamperini (the man from Unbroken) meet for the first time. I know the astronauts came after Zamperini, but for my fictional party, they’re all contemporaries.
[Buzz and Neil talking. Enter Louie, who breaks into their conversation]
Louie: Hey, how are ya?
Buzz: Great! I’ve been to the moon. How about you?
Louie: Never been there. Don’t have any desire. You can’t run fast on the moon.
Buzz: [chuckles] Nope. You sure can’t. But you can take some pretty long strides.
Louie: [smiles] I bet you can. But I’ve already taken some pretty long strides. I ran in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and was friends with Jesse Owens. I even shook hands with that fool, Hitler.
Neil: Ha! A runner! I believe that the Good Lord gave us a finite number of heartbeats and I’m damned if I’m going to use up mine running up and down a street [or a track].
[FYI: Neil Armstrong really did say that. It makes me feel good about not running. Thanks Neil]
Buzz: [chuckling again] Neil and I aren’t much for running. We did our share of it in the Air Force.
Louie: I was in the Air Force. Almost broke the 4 minute mile running on a sandy beach while stationed in Hawaii. My buddy clocked me from his jeep.
Neil: Yeah? But how many missions did you fly? I flew 78; Buzz here flew 66 combat missions.
Louie: I didn’t fly that many. My B-24 went down in the Pacific on a search mission and only three of us survived. But I endured 46 days at sea on a raft.
Buzz: No way.
Louie: WAY. It wasn’t fun. I about starved. We drank when it rained and I caught seabirds that landed on me for food.
Neil: That life’s for the birds. [chortle chortle]
Louie: Yeah, well, I was about as thin as a bird. And then there were sharks; they were bad. The suckers never left us alone.
Buzz: I don’t like sharks.
Louie: Me neither. But when we finally washed up in a typhoon on a Japanese occupied island and were captured, I kind of wished for the sharks. They were nicer than the Japanese guards.
Neil: Still…Buzz and I walked on the MOON.
Louie: Yeah, but have you come back from the dead?
Neil: What kind of joke are you trying to pull?
Louie: No, really. The government declared me dead. The Japanese used it as propaganda against America. My obituary was in the paper and everything. And oh, have you ever been slugged 220 times in a row—by a different man each time.
Buzz: [putting a hand on Louie’s shoulder & chuckling] You’re all right, Louie. Welcome to our club. I’ve read your book, and you would never have walked on the moon…you would have run all over it!
Neil: Just don’t ask me to be your running partner.
Party’s over! Now back to reality. One of my favorite quotes from this book is:
“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. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet.”
Hillerbrand did an amazing job writing about Zamperini’s life. Most nonfiction puts me to sleep, but her writing created a powerful page-turner. I was blown away by this guy’s story. There’s a lot about his life after the war too, and his struggles to overcome the abuse he suffered as a POW and to forgive his enemies. It’s a great book (even if my party dialogue above was somewhat lame). Hope you enjoy Unbroken.