Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

1st Quarter Blog Post (Pg. 1-102)

Unbroken. A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. This title perfectly captures that pervading sensation of enduring tribulation and ultimately coming out victorious. The real-life story of Louie Zamperini–Olympic runner, World War II pilot, POW survivor… His unbroken spirit, enduring no matter what comes his way, is a story that is truly inspiring. Laura Hillenbrand had crafted what seemed to be a whole new world out of the accounts of Louie Zamperini, Pillsbury, and others whom she had interviewed, and it is a world that already has me in its engrossing grasp.

I have to say that I came into this having first watched the movie. I knew that Louie was an Olympic runner, that he had been an airman in the service of the U.S. Army, that he along with his crew had crashed and become stranded in the Pacific, and that the Japanese had held him prisoner…But I had never expected what Hillenbrand could have captured within her account. Hillenbrand is truly one of the few authors who can write a non-fiction story in the most vivid and gripping way imaginable. Few are blessed with such a way with words as she. Instead of being solely flowery or overly embellished, her prose lies basely on research, witness accounts, and interviews, and yet never manages to be dull nor tiresome.

I must also express that I am writing this blog post currently poised at the edge of my seat. Though slow in the beginning (as it provides much of the background to Louie’s Olympic aspirations and career, and is sprinkled intermittently with information about the U.S. Air Force and the specific models of planes) it had built towards such an engrossing cliffhanger that I am helpless in its hold. I can definitely see signs of foreshadowing that would soon amount to Louie’s crash and subsequent experience as a Prisoner of War. “The Flying Coffin,” the gathering of arms by both Hitler and the Japanese people (45), the passing of the Zeppelin who “was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself…” (5) Even though I know the gist of what is about to happen, I still cannot wait to see what will unfold next!

Additionally, something that I noticed almost immediately upon reading this book is Hillenbrand’s style of narration. To me, it seemed the perfect balance between fiction and nonfiction. Not only does it reiterates facts and or relevant information such as statistics to the audience, she offers up an inside look into both Louie’s brain, and others of whom she interviewed, presenting an all-encompassing point of view. One example of this intriguing style of narration would be the character of Jimmie. She first presents him as a close friend of Louie’s—a scholarly, learned yet quiet man. In later pages, she provides a hint to his true identity, writing “Jimmie Sasaki wasn’t what he seemed…[his] attempts to pass as a student were apparently an elaborate ruse.” (42) Her writing seemed a perfect balance between fiction and nonfiction, as presenting a myriad of plots all at the same time. One might find a description of Hitler preparing his army and the Japanese minister raising his people up in arms…Hillenbrand’s description of events are all encompassing—many happen at the same time, illustrating the gravity of each situation. Furthermore, I love the way she so seamlessly incorporates each quote into the passages, providing a far more comprehensive account of World War II.

Though the 1st quarter technically ended on page 102, just as the survival of the crew of the Super Man came into question, I must admit that I may have ‘cheated’ in this aspect. Her writing has truly been so “ferociously cinematic” (to quote People) that I couldn’t simply stop at this climactic point. To stop would have meant that burning, all-enveloping sensation of curiosity, and I simply couldn’t bear not knowing. Reading this has simply enveloped me within Louie’s world, and so far my venture into the novel has been much promising, and I can hardly wait to further devour these pages. It is almost as if Louie’s dreams—his hopes and fears, his awe-inspiring experiences have entrapped me within its influence–a ‘cage’ that I cannot escape until I have satisfied my curiosity. Yet another World War II novel to add to that ever-growing collection of stories that we’d read this year! Happy reading!




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7 responses to “Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

  1. liliperez22

    Hi Cammie!
    The novel, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, has had me hooked from the very first page. I must confess, I had my reservations before I began to read this novel, as I personally do not enjoy reading biographical novels. To me, they seem plain and boring, as if they were written straight out of a textbook. However, I find that I agree with you, as Laura Hillenbrand crafts this story as if it were just that, instead of a dull rendition of the life of an incredibly remarkable person. One way she enhances the story is with her rich language, which can be both amusing and heartfelt.
    An aspect about this book that has fascinated me is how she writes about Louie’s childhood. In any normal biographical novel, the childhood of its subject, unless extremely traumatic, is usually glossed over. However, Hillenbrand dedicates almost an entire section of the novel to his childhood, and perfectly described how it formed Louie into the man he was during the war. Also, I loved how she would describe his family, especially his mother. I found the story of his mother incredibly interesting, an example when the author wrote, “In search of an informant, she worked over Louie’s schoolmates with homemade pie and turned up a soft boy named Hugh, who’s sweet tooth was Louie’s undoing.” (10) With each and every character description, Hillenbrand would add in subtle humor to please the reader, as well as incorporating truth into the novel.
    Another aspect of the novel that I thoroughly enjoyed was how the author would add in facts that would loosely relate to the story, but not entirely to Louie himself. One example of this is when the author wrote, “In the 1930s, America was infatuated with the pseudoscience of eugenics and its promise of strengthening the human race by culling the “unfit” from the genetic pool.” (11) In the story, this point is briefly touched upon, as it had influenced Louie to become more than just a criminal, but the way she had added in other stories and facts from other people was another thing that fascinated me as I was reading the novel.
    A moment in the novel that truly surprised me was how Louie actually met Hitler, and Hitler, (in his own way) praised him for his running. (35) That section of the novel made me stop to think, as it was in that moment that I realized just how much Louie had experienced. It also was a moment that made me just sit down and think about how those two sides could interact pleasantly, yet they still fought in the war years later.
    So far, this book has pleasantly surprised me, and I am so excited to read more! (Okay, let’s not pretend…I’m already nearly finished!) The life of Louie Zamperini continues to surprise me, and I can’t wait to hear more from you!
    See you tomorrow!

  2. Unbroken 2nd Quarter (Pg. 103-219)

    Before I begin, I have to echo the Washington Post’s review. “A meticulous, soaring, and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.” I agree with every word that is written. Few have ever lived a life so full of hardship. The life of Louie Zamperini is truly an intriguing and engrossing tale (just about every other positive adjective added here ☺) Now that I am done vigorously waxing praises on Hillenbrand’s enthralling novel, I will properly begin my second blog post.

    As I read the second quarter of the book, I must say that the title of the book is what stands out to me the most. That idea of being ‘Unbroken’—enduring through all trials and tribulations and ultimately coming out all the more stronger is an idea much prevalent throughout this whole quarter. The mental strength that both Louie and Phil possess must be extraordinary in order to survive 47 days floating on a raft with only a desolate future ahead and sharks as company. Indeed, the optimistic viewpoint that both Phil and, above all, Louie possess seems to be profoundly juxtaposed against the hopelessness of Mac’s. As Hillenbrand describes, “Though they both knew that they were in an extremely serious situation, both had the ability to warn fear away from their thoughts, focusing instead on how to survive and reassuring themselves that things would work out.” (154) Perhaps it is their ‘unbroken’ and resilient attitude that had truly saved them.

    I also thought that the allusion to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was exceedingly interesting. (I had once heard a song of the same name before, the one sung by the Iron Maidens.) The way that Hillenbrand utilizes the killing of the albatross to foreshadow Louie’s future suffering is all in all, ingenious. Here we have two similar circumstances, two makeshift crews “stranded in infernal…waters, tormented by thirst and monstrous creatures.” (151) The parallels between the two cast an ominous tone, leaving me to wonder if more tragedy shall be wrought on to their crew of three. Currently, I must say that I am at the edge of my seat, eagerly devouring more of this amazing story of resilience and strength, zealously anticipating.

    I am eager to hear from you soon! ☺

  3. liliperez22

    Hi Cammie!
    I cannot begin to explain to you how sorry I am for posting so late! I have been busy with many projects and tests in almost all of my classes, and could not find the time to write this until just now.
    I must start with stating just how much I am enjoying this novel. It is written with such language that is powerful, yet easy to understand, and much of the dialogue is disturbing and gut-wrenching. At times as I was reading the novel, I was taken aback by the brutality of the situations that Louie, Phil, and Mac were faced with. From sharks, to starvation, to the disappearance of chocolate bars, and their eventual capture by the Japanese, the book as kept me on my toes throughout the entirety of this section, and it baffles me even further that these events actually occurred.

    One part of the novel that I believe was excellently written was how Louie and the rest of his companions began to experience hallucinations. Towards the end of their journey on the raft, Louie experienced voices in his head, as when the author wrote, “He could hear singing. He kept listening; it sounded like a choir. He asked Phil if he had heard anything. Phil said no.” (167) For many years, it is rumored that when a person is about to die, they will hear songs from the heavens. Therefore, it was interesting that Louie could hear songs in his subconscious, almost as if he were slowly dying and ascending to heaven. The writing in this section was short and to the point, which emphasized how quickly Louie’s life was seemingly coming to an end.

    However, on the other hand, some of Louie’s experiences were so horrifying that I found myself struggling to read passages from the novel. One such passage was when Louie was trapped in a cell, and Hillenbrand wrote, “He lay under a blanket of flies and mosquitoes, keeping his buttocks over the waste hole for as long as he could, until the guard snapped at him to move his face back to the hole.” (180) Earlier on in the passage, the author had written about how Louie had been experiencing extreme digestive discomfort, and each day suffered greater and greater until his waste became bloody. This entire passage made me sick to my stomach, as I am not a person who is the best at handling those types of situations. Hillenbrand describes each situation with such detail that it made me almost want to put the book down.

    One another note, I believe that your point about the albatross was correct. I do believe it foreshadows an extremely negative future for our heroes, as for one, they are already captured by the Japanese, and also I do believe they must reap the consequences of their actions. Another thing I noticed is as the book has progressed, the tone has become far more dark, as at first it started with the early life and aspirations of Louie, but suddenly dove deep into the horrors of war, and what Louie has done in order to keep himself alive.

    Once again, I am so sorry for posting so late! See you soon, and happy reading!

  4. Unbroken Quarter Three (Pg. 220-314)

    As I devour more of Louie Zamperini’s amazing account, I am filled with both a sense of awe and that too of disbelief. It is unbelievable to me, truly how much he had endured. Not only did he survive an unprecedented 47 days floating on a life raft with little to none supplies, he survived torturous circumstances in prisoner of war camps. This section, though considerably less action-packed than the previous readings, is perhaps the most poignant of the whole novel. I have definitely come to a whole new appreciation on the finer, lesser-known aspects of life.

    (On a definite side-note, I definitely feel like every post that I write will have me singing praises about how eye-opening, intriguing, and how utterly fascinating this whole book is. So please, bear with me as I continue to just fall more and more in love with this truly amazing work. And I’m also glad to see that you’re enjoying it as well! This book is most definitely a must-read for all at some point. And on a further side-note, I will also have to agree with you on the beauty of Hillenbrand’s language, even when describing disturbing circumstances such as the death of Mac or the Japanese imprisonment. Her descriptions truly does make it all the more poignant. 🙂

    Something that especially stood out to me in this quarter was the role of hope and belief within one’s lives, especially within their strength to live. Hillenbrand places a peculiar sort of juxtaposition between civilian life, life within the armed forces, and life within the PoW camps in this particular quarter. She masterfully envelopes the audience in this crushing reality of World War II, demonstrating the true ‘devouring’ quality of war. Just as the prisoners languished in their bleak confinements, their families back at home worried incessantly over the state of their loved ones’ health. Describing their despair, Hillenbrand writes “What the Zamperinis were experiencing wasn’t denial… Louise, Anthony Pete, and Virginia still sensed Louie’s presence; they could still feel him. Their distress came not from grief but from certainty that Louie was out there, in trouble, and they couldn’t reach him.” (220) This hope and the strength of their conviction that their loved ones was indeed alive allowed them to preserve their will to live. Similarly, within what we might as well call the torture camps, men fought back against their oppressors, driven by their hope and their belief in a Japanese defeat. Whether it is in seemingly insignificant actions such as defaming their ‘slave-drivers,’ or reading the newspapers, those within those arduous conditions refused to back down, perhaps even flourishing because of their hope and their conviction. Though “the slave labor…was the kind of work that swallowed men’s souls, but the prisoners found ways to score little victories so essential to their physical and emotional survival.” (289)

    Something else that caught my eye was Hillenbrand’s particular focus on the cruelty of men that is only intermittently contrasted by a smattering of kindness. Additionally, she shows through her descriptions that though most may be happy to look at the world through a lense that denigrates the world into shades of black and white, Hillenbrand contrarily presents the world of the ‘slave’ camps in hues of gray–where not all Japanese soldiers were cruel and power-hungry and not all soldiers remained true to their cause. Though there were extremes on either side of the spectrum, the most shocking being that of Watanabe, one can truly discover the truth behind the historical events that are so often tainted by the victors. Hatto and Private Yukichi Kano are such exceptions from this widespread misconception–that all Japanese soldiers are villains and wholly evil, and that all Allied soldiers were pure of heart and devoutly courageous. Indeed, this quarter of the book is littered with information about life in Japan during the time of World War II, showing that there are many aspects to a certain situation, and have succeeded in opening my eyes to the world.

    I continue to be engrossed by each and every page of this truly amazing novel and I hope that you are enjoying it as well Lili! Have a great weekend and happy reading! 🙂

  5. liliperez22

    Hi Cammie!
    Here I am with the third blog post, and this book has so far been alluring and unimaginably brutal. In a way, I almost wish that I had not watched the movie first, as each and every twist in the novel is amazing, and I almost wish that I could picture each scene in the book with my own imagination, instead of relying on images that the film provided. Each character was well developed, and I believe was portrayed quite accurately to their true selves. In fact, this may possibly be one of my favorite aspects of this section of the novel, as not only does the author, Laura Hillenbrand, tell Louie’s story, but she also tells the stories of many of his fellow inmates, family and, in the case of “The Bird”, captors.

    One of my favorite stories that was told was that of Louie’s captor, Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe, who at the beginning was introduced as a ruthless, almost spoiled man. This was exemplified when the author wrote, “But he was rejected; he would only be a corporal. By all accounts, this was the moment that derailed him, leaving him feeling disgraced, infuriated, and bitterly jealous of officers. Those who knew him would say that every part of his mind gathered around this blazing humiliation, and every subsequent action was informed by it. This defining event would have tragic consequences for hundreds of men.” (234) Hillenbrand portrayed Watanabe as a rich, spoiled man who believed that he was far greater than all of his peers, and when proven wrong, took it out on everyone he deemed “lower” than himself. Therefore, Watanabe was portrayed as almost the stereotypical bully. However, she also portrayed him in almost a humane light, one that everyone would fear, yet somehow relate too.

    The relationship between “The Bird”, and Louie was another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed. From their first meeting, Watanabe immediately despised Louie for almost no reason at all, mainly because Louie had acted somewhat defyingly towards him, by looking him in the eye. He had a reputation for tormenting other POWs, even acting pleasant towards them before beating them horribly, nearly to death. However, he seemed to dislike Louie the greatest, as he left Louie in absolute fear after most encounters, no matter how hard Louie would attempt to fight against him. As the years passed, their relationship did not improve, and it seems that everywhere Louie went, the Bird seemed to follow. In fact, when Louie was moved to a different POW camp, he and myself included were shocked to find that the Bird had been placed there too, as the author writes, “At last, the door thumped open. A man rushed out and snapped to a halt, screaming “Keirei!” It was the Bird. Louie’s legs folded, the snow reared up at him, and down he went.” (276).

    When reading this novel, I also enjoyed how Hillenbrand would write about the consequences that the war had on the POWs, and not just on their bodies. As the Bird would physically and psychologically tormented the POWs, the author wrote how each of the soldiers, including Louie himself, were gradually losing the will to live, an example of this being when she writes, “Every night, they dragged back into the camp, a long line of blackened ghosts trudging into the barracks and falling onto their bunks, weary to their bones, spitting black saliva.” (282) The language in the novel, such as the words “trudging” and “ghosts” suggest that the men were now merely going through the motions of life, no longer caring about what was to become of them.

    This book has honestly been one of the best books that I have read in a long while, as it is written with such brutal finess that I cannot seem to put it down, no matter how much I want to avert my eyes. I wish you happy reading, and I cannot wait to hear back from you!

  6. Hey Lili,
    Here we are again, discussing the absolute brilliance of Hillenbrand’s writing. Truly, this book has jumped to the top of my favorites list, and I am definitely disheartened and yet relieved now that I have finished reading the book. Despair–that the fascinating account of one truly courageous individual is now over (though surely, the same sense of wonder at his accomplishments will forever last!) and relief, now that Louie’s suffering at the Japanese POW camps under the hands of the Bird, is over and he is able to find closure.

    (On a side note, I can definitely relate to you about what you said regarding the relationship between Watanabe–otherwise ‘honorably’ known as the Bird–and Louie Zamperini. I wouldn’t say that he had disliked Louie for no reason, but rather from mixed factors that seem to largely include his hatred seems to stem from jealousy of the famed runner’s worldwide success as well as his position as an officer. Looking at his background–that of a spoilt son of a wealthy Japanese family who had had everything handed to him except for a position as an officer–one can definitely see some semblance of reason behind his madness. However, this still does not excuse his behavior.)

    It is truly saddening to see that Louie had perhaps suffered more in his home of America than amongst the Japanese internment camp. It seemed that there, at least, he was secure in the strength of his resolve and resourcefulness, and was filled with a will to fight back, survive, and see his family once more. It was a cold rush to reality to see that Louie, unlike so many protagonists that we often see in fiction, is not perfect, and had, like thousands of veterans, fallen victim to alcoholism, which brought him “a pleasant numbness” (347) as he struggled to distinguish between memory and actuality. Indeed, “the central struggle of postwar life was to restore their dignity and find a way to see the world as something other than menacing blackness. There was no one right way to peace; every man had to find his own path, according to his own history.” (357)

    One thing that especially stood out to me was this cycle of redemption and forgiveness contrasted against the dark cruelty within this novel. It seems that all are given a chance to redeem themselves and atone for the crimes and sins of the past. We can see this recurring motif in the characters of Louie as well as Mac. Louie had been the town’s own personal hellraiser, committing crimes left and right, terrorizing neighbors and beating up other people. However, when he committed his energy to running, he became the pride of his hometown. Mac, on the other hand, had selfishly endangered all his crew members on the raft when he ate all of the rations but had later redeemed himself by relentlessly defending them from the sharks. Yet Watanabe is never offered this opportunity for redemption and has never sought it out. Instead, he “had taken off his uniform, picked up a sack of rice, slipped into the Naoetsu countryside, and vanished” (314) much in the manner of a coward. And though he was high on the “most-wanted” list, he never faced a war crimes trial–never even a court accuser. Hillenbrand ends the novel with the powerful act of forgiveness, satisfying that final ‘circuit’ of the cycle. The war and in particular–the Bird had so plagued Louie that he found no means of peace nor purpose. He was unable to recover and build a meaningful relationship with others. And yet, by discovering faith and purpose once more in religion, and in finally closing that chapter of his war-torn life, Louie is able to find the inner peace that had so eluded him after the war. Indeed, he had transitioned from rejoining the Olympics, to “going to kill the Bird” (361) and finally to forgive him. It seems that he had finally found that moment where “something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.” Truly, the power of redemption and more profoundly, forgiveness is one that can truly be depicted within Unbroken, as it seems to have the powerful ability to turn one’s lives completely.

    Though saddening, his is a story that is truly inspiring. Indeed, it seems so surreal and so entirely fantastical that it appears fictionalized, instead of a chronicle of someone’s life. Well, anyway, I hope you have a great weekend Lili! Enjoy reading the rest of the book and sorry for this short post!

  7. liliperez22

    Hi Cammie!
    Finally we have reached the end of the book (and the year)! Honestly, I am so pleased that summer is just finally beginning, and we will finally be able to have three months of quality time to rest and recuperate. This book has been an absolute pleasure to read, and was (unsurprisingly) thoroughly entertaining throughout its entirety. I especially loved the care that the author took in humanizing and developing each of the people in a way that was realistic and truly depicted their lives in actuality.

    I agree with you that the book did not actually take the most bright of approaches towards its end, despite the fact that Louie had returned home. I was deeply saddened as well as I read about his deteriorating family and social life, and his severe PTSD. However, as I have mentioned before, I was enamored with Hillenbrand and how she was unwilling to sugar coat the rest of the novel, and also did not just end it with his return home. Instead, she brutally covered the consequences of his stay at the POW camps, as she wrote about his assimilation back into a normal life. A few years after the war, Hillenbrand wrote that Louie had met a woman by the name of Cynthia, whom he had fallen in love with and married. However, the way she wrote their relationship was both interesting and completely heartbreaking. Because Louie had been suffering from PTSD, he was having an incredibly difficult time handling his relationships, as proven when the author wrote, “He let go and leapt off Cynthia. She recoiled, gasping, crying out. He sat in the dark beside her, his nightclothes heavy with sweat. The sheets were twisted into ropes around him.” (367) When she wrote that the sheets were like ropes around him, she meant that Louie was still trapped in the POW camps, even though he had never left. He was having a hard time discerning reality, and it was causing his relationship with his wife to become incredibly strained.

    Another part of this section that I enjoyed was that not only did Hillenbrand write about Louie’s assimilation, she also wrote about his friends and even the Bird. In fact, I found the Bird’s story to be even more interesting, as he was apparently declared dead for many years, until he finally resurfaced towards the end of both his and Louie’s lives. It interested me that Watanabe had stated that he would allow all the refugees to come and beat him, to correct his wrongs. However, the author wrote in response to Louie, “The meeting was not to be. CBS contacted Watanabe and told him that Zamperini wanted to come and see him. Watanabe practically spat his reply: The answer was no.” (397). After all those years, Watanabe still felt contempt towards Louie, however, I believe that he also felt guilt for how poorly he had treated Louie, and wanted to avoid meeting him at all costs.

    This book has been a wonderful read for me, and I loved reading about Louie and the people in his life, that made the story so fantastic. Many instances in the novel almost seemed unbelievable, and I was thoroughly shocked during more than one occasion. I will miss posting on this blog, and I hope you have a great summer!

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