The Life of Bon: Bon's Book Club: Unbroken

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bon's Book Club: Unbroken


Every month we read a book.  On the selected day, we talk about it. (Generally the last Thursday of the month).

Join in for whatever books you can.  Read what you want and comment on what you want.  Some readers write their own review on their blog and then link up to it, others just write their thoughts in the comments- it's up to you!  If you write your own post and link up, please slap the image above on your post! Grazi!


- What did you like about the biography?
- What didn't you like?
- Which parts of Louis' story stood out to you the most?
- What is the main message you got from Unbroken?
How do you view war in light of this book? Did you opinions about war change at all?
- If you saw the movie, how did the movie compare to the book?

My co-host this month is Emmy from Love Woke Me Up This Morning.  She is one of my favorites for talking books, and I was so excited when she said she wanted to host book club with me.  This girl knows her books!  Emmy will give you her thoughts first, and then I'll chime in with my two cents at the bottom!

Emmy:  I am ecstatic to be joining The Life of Bon for her monthly book club!  This month we read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the biography of Louis Zamerini who became an Olympic runner then turned soldier in WWII. While on a mission in the Pacific Ocean, his plane went down and he was stranded with two other men on a raft for over 40 days... only to be captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp for the remainder of the war. 

Pretty intense stuff.

What I Liked:
I found the entire story fascinating. I loved learning about Louis and his family when he was a kid. It gave me comfort for some of the preschool and teenagers who have given me headaches over the years to know they can go on to do amazing things! 

I also oddly loved the chapters about his time on the raft. As terrifying as it was, I enjoyed reading about the creative ways Louis and the men found ways to survive, have entertainment, eat, keep their minds sharp, etc. I especially loved when they talked about their mom's recipes and how much he learned to appreciate the quiet and the nature around him. I actually laughed a little when he got angry at the sharks for not staying in their own territory. 

The chapters about being a POW were rough, but good. Rough simply because it was so awful the things he went through. But I appreciated learning about it and how he was able to persevere. Also though, how as time went on Louis almost seemed to becoming more human. Before, it was almost as though he was this impossible person who never had doubts or anger and was eternally optimistic. As his time in the camp went on, and when he returned home, you saw more of his imperfect humanity. I found comfort in that because you don't have to be a perfect person to be strong and to inspire others. 

What I Didn't Like:
I felt some of the writing style was a bit dry. That could simply be because this was a biography and I'm so used to reading either novels or comedic memoirs. There were times it took a lot for me to get through it. 

The POW camp chapters were also very difficult for me. This was more of my own personal taste though, and not the writer. The things which happened were so awful I had to put the book down several times and distract myself because it was just so terrible. Again, that's more of my own issue than the books.

I also saw a little bit of my pessimistic side come through at the end. The end was WONDERFUL and inspiring. However, every once in a while I had little doubtful thoughts of "and he never relapsed... EVER?" 

Other Thoughts:
- I loved how this book seemed to focus more on the perseverance of humanity vs. getting on a "I LOVE AMERICA" high horse. I love my country - don't get me wrong. But I was worried this book was going to be obnoxious with shoving the American flag into people's faces, and it wasn't this way at all. The focus truly was on the life of Louis, his family and friends, and the human spirit no matter what country you are from.

- The ending was wonderful. I love the message of forgiveness and being able to move on from your anger and hurt. If Louis can forgive, so can we. 

- I've always loved learning about WWII. (I blame having the Molly American Girl doll as a kid.) It was interesting to read a book which focused on the Pacific vs. Europe for once though. So much of WWII history is focused on Europe, I was glad to see the other side. The book also gave some focus to those at home, and I've always had a heart for learning more about the families on the homefront waiting for their loved ones to come home.

- Reading about the atomic bombs make me feel uneasy. I never know truly my thoughts on war and atomic bombs and such. I hate how many people have to die - innocent people. Or even people who aren't innocent and need forgiveness and redemption. I never feel comfortable with war because the point is the kill people. On the other hand, how many lives were saved? What would the world look like now if these things hadn't happened? I'm not sure. 

Those are my thoughts on Unbroken and I can't wait to hear what you all have to say as well!

First off, to touch on a couple of things that Emmy said.  I also loved that the book was focused on World War II in the Pacific.  I agree that it is a viewpoint we don't read as much about.  In an interview I read of Hillenbrand's she makes a point of saying that we aren't informed enough about what was going on in the Pacific.  All of the books, movies, etc, about WWII now is centered around the war in Europe.

I understand Emmy's complaint about the "dry" writing style, but it didn't bother me at all.  I think maybe I have a different mindset when I'm reading a book like this- more of a "I'm reading a history textbook" instead of "I'm reading an entertaining book" and, well, compared to a history text book it's not dry at all.  I LOVE Laura Hillenbrand.  I devoured Seabiscuit last summer- the way she finds stories and writes about people- their passions, their mistakes, their friends- it is simply fascinating to me.  I love how she shows compassion for the bad guys and shows the weaknesses of her heroes.  There is no black and white in Hillenbrand's writing- she tries to uncover all sides of the characters.

Favorite Parts:
My favorite chapters are the raft chapters.  I know not a lot is happening, but the way that they survived and kept their minds alive was fascinating to me.  I also loved reading about the third raft mate who eventually died, Mac.  By far the most interesting part for me.

I also really enjoyed the chapters that focused on Louie's family at home.  Pretty amazing how they never gave up hope even after he was declared officially dead.  It kind of got me all choked up thinking about the power of family.

On Hillenbrand and her illness:
One of the things that was most interesting for me was an interview by Hillenbrand that was in the back of my copy of the book.  She talks about her battle with chronic fatigue syndrome and vertigo.  She suffered greatly while she was trying to write Unbroken- it was published more than two years after its originally set publication date and took altogether more than six years to write.  This is what she says about the process:

Writing books is never easy; doing it with this illness has been a tremendous challenge.  When I was working on Seabiscuit or Unbroken on my good days I'd write for hours and hours, make trips to libraries and archives to hunt down research material, and conduct matieral.  On bad days I'd sit on my porch or balcony or the side of my bathtub, my eyes closed, so as not to exacerbate the vertigo.  A fair amount of Seabiscuit was written on a pad in this manner, and because my eyes were closed, I'd scribble all over the place, writing one line on top of another, and have some difficulty sorting it all out later... Over the years I've found odd solutions to problems related to writing with my health issues.  Because tipping my head down triggered vertigo, while working on Seabiscuit I pinned my research material to a clipboard propped high on a stack of books, so my head could remain level while I read.  To avoid having to get up to fetch my hundreds of items of soucre material when checking citations, I put all my books , interviews, and other documents on the floor, arranged them in a huge circle around me, and worked there for three weeks.

(For those of you interested, this article in the NY Times entitled The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand was gives more insight into Hillenbrand's writing, life and illness.)

The movie vs. the book
I first read this book three years ago, and it has since been a book I recommend to nearly everybody.  I was so excited when I heard they were making a movie, but then the movie didn't get that good of reviews and several people told me that they didn't like it- that it was too intense and didn't have the underlying feeling of hope and survival that the book has.  So I have held off on seeing it.  Those of you who have read the book and seen the movie, should I see the movie?  Or will it spoil the book for me?  Reading about all that hardship and suffering is one thing, but seeing it is often harder for me.  I don't know if I have the stomach for it.

My dad passed away in November of 2009.  Unbroken was published in November of 2010.  My dad loved war books and he loved nonfiction.  He also always had a soft spot in his heart for the underdog, and Seabiscuit was a favorite book of his. As I read Unbroken this past month, I thought countless times about how much my dad would've enjoyed the book and how much I would've enjoyed discussing it with him.  I always feel close to my dad when I am doing things that he enjoyed doing- waking up early to make breakfast, working in the yard, looking at stars.  I felt that closeness so strongly this past month as I read this book, as if he were right there reading it with me.  Unbroken will always have a special place in my heart because of that. I don't know a lot about what heaven must be like, but I have to think that God lets my dad sit down and read a great war story.

Alright, I've said enough. I can't wait to hear your thoughts.  You can leave a comment or link up your post below.  Emmy and I will be doing our best today to respond to all comments and get a lively discussion going.

FYI:  May's book is Interpreter of Maladies, a beautiful collection of Indian short stories.  I promise you will love them.  Discussion is the last Thursday of the month-  May 29.  Be there.

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