My back hurts, my legs ache, and I have a slight headache. It could be because I read for over 10 hours today, something I haven’t done since high school when I couldn’t find the Cliff Notes the weekend before an English test. I’ve long forgotten what that book was, but Unbroken is a book I will never forget.
There’s something about the way Hillenbrand writes that gets you speed reading without knowing it. And when I say “speed reading,” I’m not talking about the practice of extracting certain words from sentences and only absorbing enough to compute the gist of what the writer is saying, but rather you find yourself reading FAST. Really fast. Some of it is the staccato nature of the text. Some of it is the shear horror of the scenes. Some of it is that you can’t stop because she draws you in so deep, you feel a humanitarian duty to stay with the story and not leave Zamperini alone. I felt an intense passion for his mother and father, and kept reading partially to get to the next chapter that dealt with their survival.
I think I saw almost 500 reviews of Unbroken online. I didn’t see a bad one. If you want the storyline, you’ll have no trouble finding it. But what I have to say about this book is that it caused intense fear in me on a variety of levels. The Life of Pi part was predictable because the outcome is known from the beginning. But the POW part was so appalling and creepy, I found it almost unbelievable… until I read some of the reviews about the author’s research.
I was having flashbacks to Ken Burns’ ” The War” documentary. Reading this on my IPad, I couldn’t see the pictures well (or I simply didn’t stop long enough to look), but I was flashing to the footage of the B-24 Liberator in the Burns’ film while reading Unbroken, and I started mixing the two in my mind, “seeing” the crashes and carnage, making this book even more realistic and terrifying.
Forget that I had boring playoff games on in the background. Even if they’d been championship squeakers, I probably wouldn’t have lifted my eyes. And forget that I read almost as much yesterday as I did today, giving me about 18 hours vested in this book. People overuse the recommendation that “You won’t be able to put it down.” (Of course you can. You have to eat and sleep.) I, myself, have been insincere with those very words. But this book is frankly the only book I’ve ever read in my life that won’t let you put it down except to recharge your e-reader.
And one more thing. About the same time I was looking for Cliff Notes, I had a memorable argument with my mother about the atomic bomb and what Truman did by dropping it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Without making a political or philosophical judgment one way of another, I learned much from this book about the way my mother must have felt during this troubled time, and it answered questions I didn’t even know I had.