This is the story of Louie Zamperini, Olympic runner and WWII airman who went through an horror-filled existence in a brutal Japanese POW camp, but it is also so much more. The author is brilliant at putting Zamperini’s story in the context of the time – making that era come alive, and fleshing out the characters in the book in the kind of detail and language you might expect in a novel.
Although there are pages and pages describing the horrors of Louis’ POW experience, Hillenbrand also vividly portrays what was happening in other POW camps, and builds Louis’ story into the panorama of the Pacific WWII experience. Hillenbrand describes the ways that POWs remained defiant, taking opportunity where they could to scuttle and sabotage the Japanese in unbelievably inventive ways, reminding one at times of Weary Dunlop’s own recounting of his wartime experiences. There is humour even in all the tragedy.
Louis Zamperini returned from his war experience traumatised and full of rage. I will not spoil the story by telling what happened at the end, but it this is a story of healing. His story opened the way for many who were the sons, daughters and wives of war veterans to understand why their loved ones would sometimes act the way they did. We would probably call it PTSD today.
This is recommended for book clubs, and is also published in a version for young adult readers.