Published November 2010 by Random House Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of my parents - who bought it to read for my book club meeting (I worked that well, didn't it?)
Louis "Louie" Zamperini was a bad boy. Not precocious. Not misguided. Bad.It was a miracle he wasn't hauled off to juvenile detention as a six-year-old. It's a wonder his parents didn't try to give him away. Yet for all of the trouble he caused at school, all of the things he stole, all of the fights he got into, his family never gave up on him.
Zamperini worked tirelessly after that time to help wayward young boys, just as he had long ago been helped by his brother and to preach forgiveness. He has been awarded numerous honorary degrees and in 2011 appeared on the Tonight Show. The daredevil kid inside has never completely disappeared - there is a picture in the book of 81-year-old Louie skateboarding.
Laura Hillenbrand suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and was only able to talk to Zamperini by phone as she worked on the book. Louie had previously written his own book and Hillenbrand drew on a wealth of other resources to craft a book that evokes strong emotion and never lags, even when writing about the 47 days in the ocean. She is certainly helped by a compelling story and a unique lead character, but Hillenbrand does not make this solely Louie's story. Throughout the book, Hillenbrand incorporates and memorializes the men that played a part in Louie's life, making this a book about much more than one man.
Several things stood out for us. Both my mom and I had marked that same page where Hillenbrand talked about the way in which the Japanese camps sought to deprive Zamperini and Phillips of the one thing that had sustained them during their time in the ocean, their dignity. Hillenbrand says:
"This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind."As inconceivable as the type of treatment the Japanese guards meted out is, Hillenbrand does a marvelous job of trying to explain it. The culture of Japan itself made the Japanese feel contempt and revulsion for soldiers who surrendered or were captured. All Japanese were raised to believe that to be captured in war was shameful and this thinking made it acceptable to abuse, enslave and murder captives. Hillendbrand also writes that "some of the worst abuses inflicted on captives and POWs may have arisen from the guards' discomfort with being abusive."