Unbroken: Part I Through Chapter 8 of Part II

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

Hi, Bookies:
I hope everyone is enjoying the book so far. I’m completely immersed in Unbroken and had to restrain myself from reading ahead. Laura Hillenbrand truly has a gift for telling a remarkable story. In Part I, we’re introduced to 12-year-old Louis Zamperini, who is the son of Italian immigrants. Louie, as Hillenbrand calls him, is wild and unruly: smoking at age 5, drinking by 8, stealing food, and playing endless pranks around town. (That’s just to cite a few transgressions.) Louie was also often bullied but, rather than running away, would put up with it. That is, until his father taught him to use his fists. His character is quick and exhausting to keep up with. But there is something so strangely familiar about this boy and his energy that you can’t help but wonder what he’ll do next. I found myself intrigued by his raw and reckless spirit. There were many moments when we’re led to believe Louie could head down a scary–potentially crime-filled–life. From the start, you hope someone will reach in and grab him before it’s too late. And then we meet Pete.

Louie adored his older brother, Pete, who watched over and protected him and their younger sisters, Sylvia and Virginia. Pete recognizes his little brother’s natural gift for running and is committed to getting him off the streets and on the track, where he becomes a state champion miler and then a qualifier for the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. At the Games in Berlin, Louie doesn’t win but posts the fastest 5,000-meter time for an American that year. His record-breaking final stride gets him attention from everyone–including Adolf Hitler. Even when the brothers are miles apart, Pete manages to motivate his little brother. It will be interesting to see Pete’s role play out in the next few sections of the book.

In November 1941 Louie enlists in the Army Air Corps. Only days later the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. is at war. By the next summer, Louie is shipped off to Hawaii and joins a bomber squadron. Hillenbrand vividly portrays the dangers of aerial combat and noncombat losses: “The surprise of the attrition rate is that only a fraction of the ill-fated planes were lost in combat. In 1943 in the Pacific Ocean Areas theater in which Phil’s crew served, for every plane lost in combat, some six planes were lost in accidents.” The numbers are shocking, disturbing, and incredibly heartbreaking to read. There were so many risks, dangers, and uncertainties during this time.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I found myself constantly reading full passages over and over again. Stunned, saddened, and scared for Louie and the Super Man crew. Tormented by anxiety, fearing death and the unknown, their survival tactics varied. For Louie, it was listening to classical music, enrolling in classes to properly educate and prepare him for the worst-case scenarios. We also begin to see a bond forming between Louie and his crew, specifically Phil. Russell Allen Phillips (aka “Phil”) would be Louie’s pilot and rock. They needed each other. At this point in the book, a lot has happened. What’s your reaction to Louie’s character? And what do you think of Hillenbrand’s writing style?

Next week, we’ll be diving into Chapter 9 of Part II through Part III. I can’t wait to get back to Louie and the crew. Please tell me what you think about the book so far in the comments below.