For those of you who have not yet read this new work from the author of the marvelous Seabiscuit, perhaps because you think, as I did, that over-hyped books never live up to their expectation, believe me when I say that you do not want to miss this one.
Unlike the horse, Seabiscuit, Louis Zamperini, the hero of this tale, did not begin as an underdog. He was an Olympic runner favored to come back four years later and win gold. Instead, the world went to war and he went right along with it. In her copiously researched work author Laura Hillenbrand gives a brief sketch of Louis’ early years, but the bulk of the book centers around Louis’ life as part of a bomber crew during the Pacific campaign of World War II.
Just in case there are still readers out there who do not know any of the details, let me just say that Louis Zamperini’s war experience was nothing short of extraordinary. Even after the events of the war Hillenbrand still keeps her reader guessing: would Louis run in the next Olympic games? Would he adjust to life back home? Would he marry a sweetheart and live, as he dreamed, happily ever after?
In addition to Louis’ story, the reader comes to feel as if they know and care about many of the people who shared his life and experiences. One pilot in particular, Russell Alan Phillips, know as “Phil” to his buddies and Alan to his family, is covered very thoroughly, and by the end of the tale, never mind Louis’ love life, I wanted Phil to get to go home to his girl, Cecy.
Hillenbrand has a wonderful ability to take a ghastly subject, such as the war in the Pacific, and in particular the treatment of Allied prisoners of war in Japanese internment camps, and portray all of its horror without resorting to gore. It renders this book one which you can make it to the end of without walking away from the story, and yet you still grasp the outrageous depth of possibility in man’s inhumanity. Because of this excellent crafting of the tale this is a book which I feel most teens and adults can read for information and growth. This would make an excellent book club book, as issues such as grief and revenge play a prominent role and would provide great discussion points.