Book Title: Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Year of Publication: 2010
Publisher: Random House




Review by James Cordonero

Some of you may have already read many self-help books or some other type of literature intended to assist some souls in distress in finding the ever-elusive key to happiness. But, if you want to read a book that can give you a boost of positivism when facing seemingly unsurmountable challenges, you should get a hold of “ Unbroken”, a best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand.

In her book, Hillenbrand narrates the true-to-life story of a World War II soldier named Louis Zamperini, who was stranded in the Pacific Ocean for 46 days, survived the ordeal of a Prisoner Of War (POW) in Japanese camps, and later turned into an inspirational speaker.

Zamperini’s extraordinary story is a vivid recount of not only the horrors of war in a scenario -US combat against the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II – that is almost unknown to most of us but also of the human resilience and perseverance in the face of the greatest adversity. The toughest challenges that we could conjure up in our minds in times of peace or the ones that we are actually facing in our poverty-stricken Nicaragua would pale in comparison to those Zamperini had to overcome.

In Zamperini, who passed away at the age of 93 in 2014, Hillenbrand found “a man of complexity and wisdom” who was able to look back on his ordeal and saw the pattern of his life emerge. This is evidenced in the fact that almost as soon as Zamperini returns to the US in 1945 as a hero, he contemplates the idea of restarting his career as an athlete but soon discovers that his legs, damaged due to repeated beatings and accidents, cannot do the job. Consequently, he falls into the habit of drinking, and in a last ditch effort tries investing in various crazy schemes. Spiraling downwards, he becomes obsessed with the idea of returning to Japan and killing his former tormentor (Mitsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed “the Bird”).  In a passage of the book, Hillenbrand explores the psychology of revenge: “Louis believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder.”

In short, this is the story that few of a dying breed of soldiers have dared to tell: of a man struggling to flee an inescapable past. There are no tunnels, no massive prison breaks, no climbing over the wall or razor blade fence. Zamperini’s confinement is an escape-proof prison and the chief torturer is his own mind.

The book is certainly a great source of inspiration for all of those grief-stricken fatalists who think that with every step they take the earth beneath their feet will crack open and swallow them. However, there are many lessons that all of us can derive from the story, lessons which can help us to cope with our everyday problems, become resilient and be more perseverant under excruciating circumstances.

This is not meant to be a book spoiler, for I would like to encourage our readership to relish this page-turner narrative and not get a summary of it in a matter of minutes. That would be such a great disservice to both Hillenbrand and Zamperini’s memory himself! If you have not read this book, I invite you all to put it at the top of the list of books to be read in the near future, but make sure you read it in English as there is always something lost in translation.