Under Cover: Book Club is “Unbroken”

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unbrokenI have been sampling a lot of children’s literature lately—some for my kids, some for my husband’s classroom library, and some, if truth be told, just for myself.

While I have always had a great affinity for books written well for younger readers, I am more than ready to dive in to a good grown-up read.

When the Under Cover Book Club last met, we were set to begin reading “Orphan Train,” by Christina Baker Kline. I hope you all enjoyed the story of Niamh-Dorothy-Vivian as much as I did. It was an interesting look not only at the triumph of the human spirit, but also at a piece of American history I had not previously been familiar with.

As I began to consider which book to choose as April’s selection, my mind kept returning to one that has been repeatedly recommended to me, most recently by reader, Nicola Natland. Despite the numerous endorsements, however, it had somehow managed to slip through my reading cracks.

And, so it is, that I introduce you to the book club pick for April: “Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” by Laura Hillenbrand.

In “Unbroken,” we discover the story of Louie Zamperini – Olympic athlete, Army Air Corpsman, and epic survivor.

I felt that now was an especially appropriate time to read this book, as we are approaching, in May, the 71st anniversary of the events it portrays.

According to Hillenbrand, also, the author of “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” it was while doing research for her book about the famous horse that she first came across Zamperini’s story.

She says: “As I researched the Depression-era racehorse, I kept coming across stories about Louie, a 1930s track star who endured an amazing odyssey in World War II. I knew only a little about him then, but I couldn’t shake him from my mind. After I finished “Seabiscuit,” I tracked Louie down, called him and asked about his life.”

What followed was an hour-long conversation that would capture Hillenbrand, and set in motion a seven-year journey of impeccable research, that would, eventually, become “Unbroken.”

Originally from Olean, NY, and hailing later from Torrance, CA,  Zamperini was a juvenile delinquent turned Olympic runner, who was expected to become the first man to run a four-minute mile.

After competing in the 1936 games in Berlin, Louie was training to again run in the 1940 Olympics when war broke out.

Enlisting in the Army Air Corps, Zamperini became a bombardier. After surviving air combat, and having his plane riddled with bullets by Japanese fighter pilots, it was ironically, a search and rescue mission with no enemy fire involved that would change his life forever.

While flying over the Pacific, searching for a downed plane, Louie’s own aircraft began to have engine problems. Crash-landing in the ocean, Zamperini and the other survivors were stranded on a raft for an astounding 47 days. Battling hunger, thirst, and shark attacks, they could have had no way of knowing that the truly harrowing part of their ordeal would begin only after being pulled from the sea, when they became POWs in the notoriously brutal Japanese prison camps.

Over the course of a three-year journey filled with torture, deprivation, and inhuman conditions, Zamperini refused to let his captors break his spirit. His defiant retention of his own humanity no doubt made him a favorite target for those who controlled his fate.

Now 97, Zamperini is a true American hero. In “Unbroken,” Hillenbrand recounts for us, not only his heroism, and suffering, but his truly unbreakable spirit that led him, at the end of a long road, to ultimately find peace and redemption.

I can’t wait to read it, and hope you will join me in paying homage to a man who, I’m quite certain, deserves our undying respect.

Edie Crabtree is an avid reader and the mother of three active boys. She can be reached at [email protected], or on the Facebook page, Under Cover Book Corner.

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