Survivor Unbound: The audacity of long-distance runner


Book: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption; Author: Laura Hillenbrand; Publisher Random House)

The author of the best-selling non-fiction Seabiscuit, which was made into an award-winning movie, returns with a moving, insightful and an extraordinary tale of a World War II survivor. This time she tells the almost incredible story of Louis Zamperini, a bombardier with Army Air Corps, who went down into the Pacific in his rickety B-24 or The Green Hornet. The year was 1943, the high point of the World War II. Of the 11 men on board, only three survived on a raft, travelling some 2,000 miles in 47 days and eventually landing in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Thereafter, it was a saga of unspeakable torture and suffering spread out over two years. Writing in the New York Times, David Margolick says “that story encompasses an aspect of the American experience during World War II — the cruelty of the Japanese — that, in an era of Toyotas and Sonys and Hideki Matsui, has been almost entirely forgotten.” Zamperini, as we find out, competed at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and later in 1998 was the torchbearer at Nagano Games in Japan. But much before all this, this son of Italian immigrants in California was wont to creating trouble. But soon he discovered his latent talent as a long-distance runner, first becoming a state champion miler and later a qualifier for the US Olympic team. Through the book, Hillenbrand has managed to pen a compelling story of a man who had a most unbelievable life. In another perceptive review of the book in the New York Times, Janet Maslin is slightly critical of a bit of hagiography that has crept into the narrative, but can’t resist praising the book for what she calls “its celebration of gargantuan fortitude.”
“In “Unbroken” Mr. Zamperini is No. 1 on any occasion, in any contest, facing any ordeal. Ms. Hillenbrand writes about him so hagiographically that he can come out ahead even when not quite making seventh place in a 5,000-meter race, because she chooses to emphasize the extreme speed of his final lap,” she writes. “So “Unbroken” is a celebration of gargantuan fortitude, that of both Ms. Hillenbrand (whose prose shatters any hint of her debilitating fatigue) and Mr. Zamperini’s. It manages to be as exultant as “Seabiscuit” as it tells a much more harrowing, less heart-warming story.”