Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, who was an Olympic athlete turned military man who was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. After well over a month drifting at sea, eating birds and the rare fish he caught, and drinking rainwater, he was finally rescued. Only the rescue was anything but an answer to prayer. He found himself in the hands of the Japanese for a few years going from POW camp to camp. He was beaten to the point of death several times. He was emotionally taken to the breaking point of any man. And yet, through the entire ordeal, he never gave up hope of seeing his family again. As the subtitle says, it truly is a story of survival and resilience.
His story is only enhanced by the writing of Laura Hillenbrand. She absolutely drew me in to want to know more and more of what was going to happen to Zamperini (as well as all of his friends and family).
The subtitle also says that it is a story of redemption. As I read this book, I kept feeling like there would be more. It just seemed as though there would or should be a spiritual element in this story. But Louis was a very non-religious man who didn't want anything to do with Christianity. Yea, he did what everyone else in his position might do while floating at sea, he made a promise to God: "if you will save me, I will serve you forever." Yet this thought was far from his memory.
After he was finally rescued from the POW camp at the end of the war, he went through what many other POW's went through. The only way he could find comfort was through drinking. He did get married, but over time, that became a train wreck as well. He would get drunk every night so he could sleep and not see the Mutsuhiro Watanabe, the man who tortured him more than any other. This continued until Louis wife went to see a young preacher by the name of Billy Graham. She came home offering forgiveness to Louis and did everything she could to convince him to attend one of his outreach events.
He eventually did and left furious. But for some reason, he returned. As we was trying to leave after the message before the invitation, those thoughts on the raft came racing back to him. Hillebrand writes,
"As he reached the aisle, he stopped. Cynthia, the rows of bowed heads, the sawdust underfoot, the tent around him, all disappeared. A memory long beaten back, the memory from which he had run the evening before, was upon him. Louie was on the raft. There was gentle Phil crumbled up before him, Mac's breathing skeleton, endless ocean stretching away in every direction, the sun lying over them, the cunning bodies of the sharks, waiting, circling. He was a body on a raft, dying of thirst. He felt words whisper from his swollen lips. It was a promise thrown at heaven, a promise he had not kept, a promise he had allowed himself to forget until just this instant: If you will save me, I will serve you forever. And then, standing under a circus tent on a clear night in downtown Los Angeles, Louie felt rain falling. It was the last flashback he would ever have. Louie let go of Cynthia and turned toward Graham. He felt supremely alive. He began walking." (375)And walking he did. A walk to follow Christ in all things. A walk that brought about forgiveness of his soul, but also forgiveness of his captors. It was a walk that stopped his alcoholism. It was one that changed his life. That is the story of redemption.
I can't recommend this book enough. It is well worth your time, even though if you have read this far into this review, you know the ending.