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Unbroken: A World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption

by Laura Hillenbrand
2010, 497 pages

One of the least amazing things about Louis Zamperini is that he took up skateboarding in his eighties. But it shows the determination that had him competing as a 5,000-meter runner at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It also reveals the attitude that led the young Louis to steal a Nazi banner when the Games concluded.

These two qualities would be vital to him when, during World War II, his plane crashed and Louis found himself on a tiny raft in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. His chances of being found by searchers were remote, but if the small craft continued to drift west there was a chance it might make it to land – islands occupied by brutal Japanese forces.

The redemption mentioned in the subtitle is true redemption. Louis starts the story as a thief and a punk. As an airman in World War II he bunks in a cabin plastered with pornography. Many of the Japanese soldiers he meets are sadistic and perverse. So we see evidence of the Fall in this book (described with restraint). But the most amazing thing Louis is able to do is something he knows comes from completely outside his own abilities. God enables Louis to repent and forgive.

This ranks in my top three best biographies I’ve read – it is an amazing story told by an equally amazing storyteller. Laura Hillenbrand is half the age of her subject but the level of detail in her research makes it seem like she must have grown up with him, and tailed behind him wherever he went. And at the same time, she never lets the detail overwhelm the story; this is a large book, but a very fast-paced one.

One caution: the author quotes at least a couple of her subjects taking God’s name in vain. I don’t know if the author is Christian, so she might not have understood that this level of detailed recollection was unnecessary and undesirable.

As for who should read this book, in addition to recommending this to adults – though it is all done with restraint, there is too much brutality and horror here for teens – interested in World War II, this is also a very good book for anyone wondering how the US could possibly have dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan, targeting and killing over 150,000 civilians (this is the most conservative estimate). While neither the author nor Louis argues explicitly for the morality of dropping the bomb, Louis’s experiences make it clear that when it came to Japan, there was little difference between the military and the civilian population – rather than surrender Japan was readying its civilian population to fight on, seemingly to the last man and woman. Reading about Japanese brutality, and their thoughts on the disgrace of surrender, gave me a perspective on the atomic bomb I had never before had. It certainly makes the decision much more understandable. Afterward, I still questioned why they couldn’t have first demonstrated the power of the bomb on something other than a city, but, as National Review contributor Victor Davis Hanson explains here, there were only two bombs available, and the Americans were worried that the destruction of just one city would not be enough to induce Japan to surrender. And it seems they were right to worry. Unbroken doesn’t end the debate, but it does give insight into the way both the Americans and Japanese were thinking at the time.

But that is a long aside – the book is about an amazing man, saved by an awesome God. Highly recommended!

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Drama, Movie Reviews

Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Drama / Christian 98 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 best-selling biography of Louis Zamperini was so good two movies have been based on it. The 2014 adaptation was a major motion picture that made more than $100 million. It was titled, simply, Unbroken. It focused on Zamperini's World War II heroics, and his career as an Olympian. That film shared how he survived getting shot down, and how he spent 47 days on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean only to be rescued by the Japanese. They then imprisoned him in a camp staffed by sadistic guards who tortured him for the rest of the war. What was missing from this Hollywood production was Zamperini's conversion, which gets only a passing mention right as the credits roll. Director Angelina Jolie didn't see it as a significant part of his life. But for Christians who've read his biography, Zamperini's conversion is the obvious climax to his story. The Hollywood production was only half the story, with the best part still untold. In Unbroken: Path to Redemption we get that second half. While this is a sequel of sorts, picking up where the other left off, it stands up well on its own too. The focus here is on what happened after the war when Zamperini returned home, got married, and had to wrestle with nightmares, despair, unemployment, marital troubles, and alcohol addiction. Maybe this is why the first film stopped where it did: Hollywood didn't know what to do with an unbreakable man who gets shattered. But this Christian production does. While the special effects aren't at the level of a major motion picture, the acting is very good. And what makes this the superior adaptation is that it gives God his due. How was Louis able to survive it all? Only because God was there, every step of the way, protecting, pursuing, and forgiving. Some Christian critics have noted Path to Redemption doesn't go far enough into Zamperini's brokenness and as a result, mutes some of what God does for him. That's a fair critique, and I think some of my appreciation for this film is because, having read the book, I was already fully aware of that aspect. So this might be a better film when viewed as a follow-up to the book, rather than as a replacement for it. CAUTIONS There are a few cautions to share. First, Louis has some nightmares about his Japanese torturer. While these scenes aren't gory, they are intense and would scare children under 10 (and maybe some over 10). During another nightmare, Louis imagines that in his sleep he's mistaken his wife for a prison guard and has been choking her. It's all just a dream, but we get a glimpse of it. Also, one scene takes place on the beach with everyone in beach attire, but these are 1940s era bathing suits, so it isn't risqué. Finally, if you're watching this with teens, you might want to mention that this is not a how-to on dating, as it shows a good Christian lass letting herself be unequally yoked to the lapsed Catholic Louis. CONCLUSION This is the film we wanted to see in the first place, telling the full story of the broken man made whole. If you enjoyed the book you'll love this film. And if you saw the Hollywood production then you really need to watch Path to Redemption to get the rest of the story. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...


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