This is the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini. He was an Olympic runner in his youth, then, when he joined the army during WWII he was posted in Hawaii as a bombardier. His plane crashed over the ocean, he floated on a raft for six weeks, then was picked up by the Japanese and taken to a prisoners of war camp.
This is a truly amazing story told in ridiculous detail. The first two sections of the book could have been reduced to a chapter, in my opinion. The interesting part of the book is the war experience, but we are given a great deal of detail of Zamperini’s youth and running career. To appreciate where this man came from, I just needed to know the basics. After he signs up for the army and is stationed on Hawaii we learn an awful lot of facts about American WWII planes. Well, we either learn those facts, or we skip over those paragraphs, depending on our interest in such things.
Then the story starts to happen. There is some action when Zamperini goes out in the planes and eventually gets shot down. He then spends torturous weeks bobbing about and almost starving to death in the blazing sun in the ocean, hoping to eventually be rescued. I cannot begin to imagine how terrible it was. Perhaps the only thing that can rival the tediousness of floating in the ocean with little hope of rescue is reading about it in intricate detail. I know, I exaggerate, but Hillenbrand certainly knows how to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The raft eventually gets to land, but it is Japanese territory, and then the horror really begins. I had read a little about the brutality of the Japanese POW camps, but again, I got lots of details from this book and it is all horrendously shocking.
I found this man’s story genuinely astonishing. I read it for the Sin City Bookers Book Club, and we will get a good discussion out of it, and I learnt a lot. I will not be reading any more by Laura Hillenbrand if this is her usual style. I could have shaved around 150 pages off this 400 page book and enjoyed it much more.