By Laura Hillenbrand
You might like this book if you enjoyed the author's previous work, Seabiscuit, or if you are interested in tales of overcoming difficulty, especially during wartime.
This book satisfied all my senses. It is a well-written account of Louis Zamperini, an early-20th Century running prodigy who unexpectedly made the 1936 Olympic team, was training for the 1940 Olympics (which were canceled because of the war) and then got drafted. His life during the war years included truly astonishing experiences going down in a plane over the pacific, being lost, being found, being enslaved as a POW, being liberated, being enslaved again by his own mind, then being liberated again by the power of forgiveness.
Zamperini is fully described, warts and all, from his years as an incorrigible youth to his incredible talent and work ethic as an elite athlete to his optimism and resilience during his incarceration to his wrenching homecoming all the way through to his recovery and subsequently peaceful later life.
I just fell in love with the man. His frustrating childhood gave me hope that the strong-willed parts of my children will be a boon to them in the difficulties of later life. His wonderful ebullience about life and the joy he found in running made me want to put my shoes on and get back out on the road, in spite of a little hip pain. His ability to keep a hold of his mind as his body was broken in the Japanese camps was hard to understand. I have no idea how I would respond to such evil.
This book also tells an interesting piece of the story of WW2. I honestly did not know that much about the Pacific theater and the role that Japan had played in so much suffering in Asia. I knew bits and pieces but that was all. As I read of atrocities and evils perpetrated by governments and institutions, I found myself thinking of the all-around goodness of individual people and how sad it is that we the normal people must get caught up over and over again in the machinations of others who have become drunk with power. I remember another book, Street of a Thousand Blossoms, that takes place in civilian Japan during the same time period and tells a different story of the same war. I am grateful I do not have to judge those times or those people, and this book simply tells what happened with equanimity and a lot of compassion. In the end, the humanity of even the brutal guards at the camps was pointed out and the final message was one of redemption.
When considering war, I must conclude again that I cannot understand it using the lens of my everyday experience. It surpasses such simplification. It is evil in all ways, but yet sometimes we must engage in order to protect what is true and valuable. The intentions of individuals are what I believe God will judge, rather than actions that we can only know the smallest part about. This book reminded me that the power of God to show his love to the people of earth truly can transcend the things that we humans bring upon ourselves.
For that, and the life of Louis Zamperini, I am grateful.