One of the most anticipated galleys of the fall just landed—Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resistance, and Redemption (Random, Nov.) is the story of Louie Zamperini, a one-time Olympic runner (a teammate of Jesse Owens in Berlin in 1936) and Army Air Forces bombardier. “I’ll be an easier subject than Seabiscuit,” Louie told Hillenbrand. “I can talk.” So did Seabiscuit in his own way, but never mind—Louie is clearly a wit. Hillenbrand writes that after her detailed research, Louie’s life was as familiar to her as her own. And Louie jibed, “When I want to know what happened to me in Japan, I call Laura.”
From the very beginning it’s clear that Hillenbrand has lost none of her narrative verve and grace as she describes Zamperini afloat on a raft in the Pacific for 27 days after some disaster befell his bomber. He’s been “one of the greatest runners in the world, expected by many to be the first to break the four-minute mile. Now his Olympian’s body had wasted to less than one hundred pounds and his famous legs could no longer lift him. Almost everyone outside of his family had given him up for dead.” The preface leaves you hanging, as I will, with Zamperini in the water, with a Japanese bomber firing from above, and hungry sharks approaching from below.
There still seems to be an insatiable hunger for a great story about a member of the greatest generation, and Hillenbrand appear to have once again found a courageous protagonist who will bring delight, compassion, laughter and admiration to her audience.