I have just read Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s best seller about Olympic runner and World War II prison camp survivor Louis Zamperini. I don’t know whether I’ll ever see the movie, which is apparently not up to the level of the book, but in any case I prefer to read the book first so that I know the real story. In this case, though, I don’t see what Hollywood would want to exaggerate – the story is amazing just as it is.
Since this is a best seller, there’s no need to talk about the main story – the wild kid who is saved from disaster by channeling his talents and excess energy into competitive running and seems set to win Olympic gold before being sent to the Pacific battlefield in World War II and eventually surviving starvation and torture in Japanese prison camps. Of all the story’s characters, from heroic soldiers to sadistic prison camp guards, the one I couldn’t get out of my mind is someone who is never identified by name in the book; the criminally incompetent officer who sent Zamperini and his luckless crew mates on a futile mission in a death trap of a plane. There must have been many similar incidents during a war, but the direct line between the incomprehensible action of this officer and the horrible deaths of some of the crew and the experiences that ruined the lives of the survivors makes him unforgettable.
Hillenbrand has done a great job of researching both historical events and the period setting.