Friday, January 25, 2013

Stunning, Sweeping, Superior—No Matter Which Words You Choose, Unbroken Is Amazing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In 1936, Louis Zamperini—a California boy born of two Italian immigrants—was on top of the world.  After breaking records in his home state and beyond, the 26-year-old runner traveled to Berlin to compete in the Olympics.  He didn't medal, but that didn't dim his dream at all—he simply trained harder, his sights set on the 1940 games.  Little did Zamperini know that that competition would never occur.  Or that a few years later, he'd be trapped in a Japanese prison camp, his finely-toned body wasting away from the effects of starvation, dehydration and frequent beatings.  Louis Zamperini's journey from one extreme to the other is a tale so incredible, so inconceivable, so totally unbelievable that it can only be fiction.

Except it's not.

It's easy to see why journalist Laura Hillenbrand chose Louis Zamperini's story to be the subject of her second book.  The tale has all the daring, desperation and drama of the most action-packed thriller.  The fact that Zamperini is a real person just makes it more affecting.  As she did in Seabiscuit—her best-selling debut—Hillenbrand breathes vivid life into her hero, drawing readers into Zamperini's story with subtle, but significant skill. I'd put off reading Unbroken, despite fervent recommendations from family and friends, because it just didn't sound like "my" kind of book.  Here's the thing, though:  It didn't matter one whit.  Unbroken hooked me from the very first page, stunning me with each new detail, mesmerizing me with every word, every scene.  Absorbing doesn't begin to describe this one.  Stunning, epic, sweeping—I don't even know which words to use.  Except for these two:  read it.  

(Readalikes:  Other books about WWII and the prison camp experience, although no specific titles are coming to mind.  Help?)

Grade:  A

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (one F-bomb, plus milder invectives), violence, and disturbing scenes/subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Unbroken from Changing Hands Bookstore with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

12 comments:

  1. Ever since I've started to read your blog, I don't think I've ever seen an A grade. This book must be spectacular. :)

    Also, it sounds like something I'd be interested in because I love WWII stories.

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    1. Yes, I'm very stingy with my "A" grades :) This one definitely deserves it, though!

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  2. How about "Rite of Passage" by Matheny which I borrowed from your husband. Not as dramatic as "Unbroken" but very interesting, engaging, and thought provoking.

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    1. I was going to name that one, but I usually only suggest "readalikes" that I've actually read. But, you're right, I'm sure it's similar. I need to read it soon!

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  3. Agreed. This is one exceptional piece of narrative nonfiction. But I'm surprised that you give its movie equivalent only a PG-13 rating. Seems like that kind of violence could only merit an R rating.

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    1. It is exceptional, for sure.

      As for the ratings, they are, of course, very subjective. I go by the MPAA guidelines as much as I can, but there's still a lot of "guess work" on my part. I didn't actually think the violence was graphic enough to warrant an R, but I could be wrong ... the question I usually ask myself is, "Would I let my 14-year-old read this?" In this case, I probably would. So, yeah, that was my thought process ... but potential readers should be warned that it's not an easy read. There's definitely "disturbing content," possibly enough to give it an R rating.

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  4. Before I read the book, I read a review that found Louis' discovery of God and his conversion to religion too far-fetched. I found his conversion to be touching... and how I imagine conversion is for a lot of people! Outstanding book!

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    1. Really? Far-fetched? I don't think so. It made perfect sense to me. And, like you, I found it very touching -- especially since Zamperini has seen the very, very worst life has to offer and still believes in God. THAT is faith!

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  5. My husband read and liked this one too. He gave it 7 stars although he liked her first book better, Seabiscuit. I didn't read either, but did go see the movie Seabiscuit which was very good!

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    1. Really? I haven't heard anyone express that feeling before. I read SEABISCUIT and liked it more than I thought I would, but I didn't LOVE it like I did UNBROKEN. I liked the movie version of SEABISCUIT, too.

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  6. Oh I need to read this one. I had seen many good reviews of it and then got caught up in other books, but now it's on my radar again.

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