Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This review will be a departure for me.  First, it is obviously not a self-published book; second, I want to talk about some points of style.

If this story were fiction people would say it lacks believability.  The ordeals related by Louis Zamperini read like the ravings of someone suffering with M√ľnchausen's Syndrome.  That a body could endure, survive and recover from even a single catastrophe that befell this irrepressible, larcenous Olympic runner turned bombardier stretches the imagination.  Nevertheless, he met Hitler, lived through forty-seven days adrift without provisions enduring daily shark attacks, two years of starvation and daily beatings in Japanese POW camps, including the personal attention of a monstrous psychopath, only to lapse, after liberation, into the abyss of paranoid flashbacks, nightmares, alcoholism and spousal abuse.  When redemption came, it too arrived on an uncanny twist of fate.

If you think that I've spoiled the story, you are mistaken.  This is the tale of a journey more than an arrival.  Laura Hillenbrand tells us in the acknowledgements that she put seven years into researching Unbroken.  It shows.  The depth of that research enriches every paragraph making this a scholarly history as well as the biography of a remarkable man.  At times, especially in the beginning where readers are won or lost, the minutia slows the pace.  It is the opinion of this reader that a little cold-hearted editing would improve the readability of this story without sacrificing historical accuracy.  The prose is generally clean and fluid.  However, there are a few clever turns of phrase that struck me as a little too clever and I would have preferred the sentence plainly said.  I am a cranky old man when it comes to objects for prepositions and I always prefer to see them.  Finally, there are some witty metaphors, they are not excessive, but in my opinion, the correct number is zero.

Please do not think that I am nitpicking.  This is a monumental work that deserves and will receive accolades.  I understand that it is being made into a movie which I look forward to seeing.  While I have attempted to present an objective and personal viewpoint, I strongly recommend Unbroken.  No fan of history will be disappointed and those who are inspired by the human spirit will be soaring.

PS: I also wanted to relate that I read the hardback edition of Unbeaten.  It was the first printed book that I've read in about three years and I seriously considered throwing it out the window and buying a download for my Nook.

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