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Old 10-04-2011, 12:25 AM   #9
sun surfer
in this great future
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I finished reading this a few days ago.

Overall, I was disappointed with Hillenbrand's writing style. She obviously spent a lot of time on research and fact-checking, but then sometimes veered into sentimentality and guessing what people were thinking/feeling/doing as if it were fact, which irked me for a non-fiction account.

I could give many specific examples or irksome details she used but for now I'll suffice with one - Louie's family being "certain" he was still alive during all that time. She wrote it as if this were unique to families of missing people, and she hit us over the head with it over and over and over. Every time the story cut back to his family, she mentioned it again. And what about the other Green Hornet families? They were probably all certain that their family members were alive too, though they would have all been wrong. And besides that, I got the feeling that his family must have had doubts that he was dead - and Hillenbrand even alluded once or twice to his family possibly wondering if he may be dead, and then in the next sentence would assert that they were all positive he was alive!

Also as became clear by POW section, the story was certainly R-rated and with shades of grey, and I'm glad she didn't shy away from necessary information or details of camp life, but in other sections she seemed to not be able to help herself by lapsing into this black-and-white PG-rated storytelling mode that I can't help but wonder if the PG-mode was the way she wrote the entirety of "Seabiscuit".

She also had a strange habit of inserting "big" words into the text here and there, but I have to wonder if she knew what they all meant because some were incongruous in context - it was as if she originally had used simpler words and then used a thesaurus to choose more complex words without checking to make sure that the more complex words' meanings fit as well.

I also didn't like the title of the book. I thought it was presumptive similar to her writing style sometimes. Louie certainly seemed broken by the end of the POW camp experience and seemed about to die, and he definitely seemed broken back home with his wife before his spiritual revelation. I just think the title takes away from an ordinary man enduring all these ordeals and, again, puts everything into more of a black-and-white sort of light. I understand the pressure to come up with a catchy and simple title for mass-market consumption but I would've rathered a more subtle title given the entire story.

All in all I thought Hillenbrand seemed to be at odds with her own style somewhat, striving at times for something more but other times settling for something less.

The story itself however is certainly amazing and worthy of a book.

I thought the most compelling part by far was the time at sea on the lifeboat. There are millions of POWs to tell stories but there are only a few plane wreck survivors who survived in the ocean over a month to tell stories. I also have an interest in ocean wrecks and survivors and that sort of thing, so that entire section was very interesting to me, in fact I loved reading that part. To read about the differences in how they handled their situation between the three of them and how their level of optimism essentially determined their fate was incredible. It almost reads as fiction which makes it more incredible that it was true.

I also never knew sharks were that aggressive to lifeboats.

Did anyone else die a little when they just barely didn't make it to that island and those houses? They were so close to land and some sort of safety, and then just to get whisked up by the Japanese at the very last minute was terrible. It does make one wonder though - if the Japanese hadn't seen them, would they perhaps have died in those houses either by starving, disease or some other Japanese finding them and killing them first? In a way being captured could've saved their lives.

As for the POW experience - it was interesting to me learning a little history about the Japanese. I've never been a fan of reading or learning about war so hadn't known much about the Japanese and WWII except for the basics everyone knows.

I was shocked at the way they treated their POWs and shocked reading about their their cultural views on the world at the time. No wonder it is something the Japanese do not like to talk about. These POW camps were barely one step above concentration camps in their treatment of prisoners.

It also angered me at the end when the POW memorial they put up in that small Japanese town had a dual memorial to their guards who (for the most part) abused them and lived through it and went back to normal Japanese life afterwards. I don't think you will ever see a dual memorial to Nazi guards beside a concentration camp memorial so that struck me as very distasteful.

In the end Louie's story is very fascinating - from being part of an outcast immigrant family to being a rebellious teen to being an Olympic runner to having his dreams cut short and having to join the army for WWII to surviving a plane crash to surviving sharks and enemy plane fire and starvation and the open ocean for over a month to then surviving abusive POW camps in Japan for years to being hand-picked because of his Olympic fame for even harsher treatment as a POW (even though his Olympic fame probably saved his and another man's life when they were first captured) to surviving all that and living into his nineties and still being alive today (!).
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