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Unbroken: An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive    by Laura Hillenbrand order for
by Laura Hillenbrand
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive is a YA adaptation of the book about lieutenant Louis Zamperini's harrowing World War II ordeals, that was also made into a major motion picture directed by Angelina Jolie.

Born in 1929, Louie emerged from a wild boyhood (constantly running from trouble with neighbors and the law) to become a national sensation as a runner. This was largely due to the support of his Italian family, and in particular of his elder brother Pete, a track star himself who believed in his brother's talent and trained him relentlessly. The Torrance Tornado became the youngest distance runner to ever make the Olympic team. He 'clocked by far the fastest 5,000-meter run by an American in 1936', met Hitler and stole a Nazi flag as a souvenir. And he dreamed of winning gold in 1940 in Tokyo.

But of course World War II changed everyone's plans. Louie enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier, with a fifty percent chance of being killed before his tour of duty ended. But Louie was a survivor! We learn of his long ordeal that began with his plane going down in the Pacific in May, 1943. He and two others ended up in a life raft, with very little water and sharks all around them. After forty-seven days, Louie and his close friend Phil (the other crewman had died after thirty-three days) were captured by the Japanese - and a new and even more harrowing ordeal began for them.

Though treatment at the POW camp was bad enough (prisoners were starved and brutalized), it was much worse for Louie who became the particular target of a psychopath, corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe. The latter was obsessed with his power over this famous Olympian officer. Though Louie's survival seemed unlikely, he did make it once more and lasted till the war ended. Back home, he met and married the lovely Cynthia and their marriage also survived, despite his drinking and PTSD. Louie eventually found a 'profound peace' as a Christian speaker and established a camp for 'lost boys'.

Unbroken is an incredible true story - of extreme trials, amazing endurance, survival through horror, and a slow recovery and redemption. It's a fascinating account for all ages.

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