“Though the captives’ resistance was dangerous, through such acts, dignity was preserved, and through dignity, life itself.”

UnbrokenIn stark contrast to last month’s comic novel, the gripping narrative of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption was the focus of the Brown Baggers’ August meeting. Many group members reported that it was a difficult read, in terms of a taxing subject matter, but still hard to put down. 

We kicked off the discussion by discussing Hillenbrand’s style, bit of biographical information, and the intriguing intersection of the two. As a writer of narrative nonfiction, Hillenbrand uses facts gathered from thousands of hours of interviews and research. Both Unbroken and the author’s previous book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, read like richly detailed novels. At least one reader in our group felt that perhaps this sensationalized the events in Unbroken. Conversely, some reviews noted that Hillenbrand keeps the reader at a distance. Because the author suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, she is confined to in-home research and conducts most of her interviews over the phone. We discussed how these limitations might inluence Hillenbrand’s writing.   

Another theme of the discussion was the Pacific theater. Many group members agreed most depictions of World War II in popular culture seem to focus on Europe, although the POW survival rate in Europe was much higher than that of Japan.  Along this line, we also discussed the similarities and difference between “The Bird,” the Imperial Japanese Army sergeant who tortured Zamperini and Hanna Schmitz, the former Nazi prison guard in Bernard Schlink’s The Reader. It’s always a highlight of any Brown Baggers discussion when we can relate our current selection to books we’ve read in the past.

More Information:

Visit the author’s official website for videos, photos, discussion questions and more.

Know a younger reader who might enjoy Zamperini’s story? Try the young adult adaptation, Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive.

Read a profile on Hillenbrand and a review of Unbroken from the New York Times.

Check out the film adaptation of Unbroken from JMRL.

Looking for a readalike? Try one of these titles or ask for a recommendation through JMRL’s What Do I Read Next? service.

Devil at My Heels: A World War II Hero’s Epic Saga of Torment, Survival, and Forgiveness by Louis Zamperini  
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel Brown 
Escape from the Deep: The Epic Story of a Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew by Alex Kershaw 
Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose 
Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II by James Tobin 
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, September 17 at noon to discuss The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

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