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The story is that of Louie Zamperini - a track and field star of the 1930's, who participated in the Berlin olympics, was part of the US air force in WWII, was shot down over the ocean, was adrift in the Pacific for over a month, was held as a POW by the Japanese forces and finally made it back to his life and has had the courage to live it to its fullest.
Hillenbrand is a marvellous author. I was never tempted to read Seabiscuit and this was my first introduction to her work. She is one of a few authors who can write a non fiction story in the most gripping and vivid way imaginable. Instead of being flowery or overly embellished her prose relies squarely on research and on witness accounts and yet manages to never be dull. The swiftly moving story takes the reader from Zamperini's early beginnings, his swift rise to track star, the Berlin olympics and then to the World War. This is where the story really blooms. Hillenbrand settles in for the long haul here and we get to see the air force and the B24 bombers through the words of the men who actually flew them. The sequences where Zamperini and his friend Phil are adrift at sea are vivid and strangely beautifully described. The horrors that await them at the Japanese prison camps are not glossed over but neither does Hillenbrand wallow in the gore and violence as some authors may be tempted to do. There is always a strong sense of the respect the author holds for the men whose story she is being allowed to tell.
History has perhaps focused its eye too exclusively on the war in Europe to the extent where the situation in the Pacific and the plight of POW's there has not recieved the attention and the respect it deserves. Hillenbrand's book and detailed research certainly makes a strong attempt to change that.
Solidly based on statistics and army reports from both sides of the war, Hillenbrands book paints a clear picture of the hellish conditions that the POW's endured and the utter madness of the war that was being waged in the Pacific. This is a hard story to read but one that is well worth it. The falling apart of Louie's life and his slow path to regaining his life and sense of purpose is a story that is truly inspiring. This book will find a permanent place of honor on my bookshelf.
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