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04 January 2013

Book Review: Unbroken


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I think back to the fact that the bulk of the book took place in the middle of the ocean and the rest of the book catalogued torture in a Japanese prison camp, it's amazing I liked this book at all.

But how reliable are these details?  How true is this story?  HIllenbrand wrote this book some 50 years after the story happened.  I cannot remember, with detail, what happened last week.  I suppose largely important, fully negative memories tend to stick but as an accurate story, I questioned much of this book.  As a fable-esque recollection of the horrors of war, I was all in.  And what is history and autobiography, really, but fable and myth?  It's much like taking Anne Frank's diary as the definitive tome of the Holocaust.  I was in a meeting with a Holocaust education professional once who said, "Anne Frank had it easy."  What?  But, yes.  Yes.  Perhaps she did.  Certainly in comparison to the folks who were living in holes with rats, Anne was pampered.  But compared to our higher expectations of the order of human society...well, she didn't.  And besides that, the people in the holes with the rats didn't have pen and paper and didn't leave a primary source.  Anne's story is the story we have; edited and managed but still mostly true.  And it's a story that gives us a jumping off point to explore the rest of history through documents that may, or may not, be more reliable.  Who knows?  There is no truth.  But there are lessons to learn from partial truths, exaggerated stories or migrating memories.  Fable and myth.  Designed to teach us how to be better contributors to the human race.

As a side note, Zamperini's redemption through the preaching of Billy Graham put a bad taste in my mouth. We, as a society, train men to be killing machines and then we plug them back into polite society, cuff them on the shoulder and say, "Thanks.  And good luck."  PTSD wasn't even a term until the last 20 years or so.  To portray, accurately or not, Zamperini's "cure" through the words of a godly sage, has the unintended effect of making the answer seem easy.  For many the answer was not that easy.  For many, the answer remains elusive.

But, in all, eminently readable.  But take with a grain of salt.



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