Friday, April 08, 2011

Have you read Unbroken?

The story of Louis Zamperini, a ne'r do well kid turned Olympic runner who enlists as an officer during WWII, goes down with his plane and fights off sharks only to be further tortured as a POW in a series of horrific Japanese camps, is the focus of Unbroken, a newish nonfiction book by the same woman who wrote Seabiscuit.

My mom recommended it to me when she was last in town, and I suggested it to my book club, who gathered in my dining room to discuss it last night. I took a couple of photos before my guests arrived.

Note the new paint on the walls, the buffet I bought off craigslist last Sunday and the food. Emily set the bar high last time by serving a very English spread of shortcake, strawberries and homemade (!) lime curd for our discussion of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. How was I to keep up when Louie spends three-fourths of the book starving. I couldn't very well serve filthy, bug-infested rice balls or raw shark liver, so I pulled from Louie's Italian heritage and offered working mom-friendly antipasto assortment courtesy of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's: Parmesan-Reggiano and Provolone cheeses, a beef salami, marinated artichoke hearts, olives and Josh's homemade crusty loaf. "Dessert" was strawberries and Hershey bars.

IMG_2474Reading this book while following the crises in Japan was disconcerting, to say the least. On the one hand, I was watching the media's coverage of the immense challenges facing the poor, unfortunate elderly Japanese citizens living on the northwest coast and being reminded of the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. On the other hand, I was finally learning about horrors a very racist, brutal country inflicted on its neighbors and POWs 60 years ago and how Hiroshima could have been prevented had the Japanese not been so unwilling to accept defeat. All of us were surprised we'd grown up so well educated on the Nazis and the Holocaust and so fuzzy on the details of the Pacific front beyond the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

I recommend Unbroken without qualifications. It is a highly readable story about a truly inspirational character that gives today's reader a thorough education our war with Japan and a profound respect for the men and women of the greatest generation. At the very least, reading about the Louie's incredible trials (starvation, daily beatings, humiliation and torture) will put into perspective the relatively minor challenges we face today.