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Old 09-17-2011, 03:10 PM   #1
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The MobileRead Literary Book Club September 2011 Discussion: Unbroken

It is now time to discuss our September selection, Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Certainly this so far has been a controversial pick for the literary book club. As of yet there have been no volunteers to lead the discussion but anyone may do so or contribute with discussion-leading posts at any time.

Any of you may post your thoughts whenever you like and everyone is free to join in the discussion. Let us begin!

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Old 09-18-2011, 07:25 PM   #2
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When I began Unbroken I was rather disappointed with the first section. Probably the strong point of Laura Hillenbrand's style is her ability to marshall carefully researched factual material into a coherent pattern. In that first part dealing with Louis Zamperini's disturbed childhood, I feel that she missed an opportunity to develop the deeper effects of those years on the adult who became so astonishingly heroic in later life. A couple examples spring to mind. When Louis prays on the ocean, he mentions that it is only the second time it has happened in his life; the first was when his mother became ill. This love for his mother is not really developed to any extent in the opening section. In the same part of the book he has a heightened spiritual experience. The roots of this spirituality must have been there when he was young but Hillenbrand never really attempts to approach that area. All she ever says is that this kind of destructive delinquency made him "tough" and the solution was found when his brother got him to run. IMO, that sounds too simplistic. Perhaps she should have explored the causes of changes in his character more than she did. I accept that she does give a great deal of material about that time in Zamperini's life--I just think that she could have analysed it more carefully and more seriously.

Once past the opening section, the book improves enormously both in style and substance. The simple--almost pedestrian quality of the prose is more effective here than in the first section as it allows the events to make a direct impact. The vivid and precise factual detail brings the entire epoch to life. Other individuals associated with Louis fill out the texture, elaborate the themes and we find ourselves involved in a powerful dramatisation of the capability of humans to rise above adversity--much of which is caused by the fallibility of human nature itself. While warfare, by its very nature, tends to polarise values, cultures, and nationalities--in this book not all Americans are portrayed as perfect and heroic and not all Japanese are villainous. The spiritual development of Zamperini is one which encompassed the whole person and despite the cauldron of physical and emotional suffering he goes through, he asserts and validates his humanity. It is this intrinsic humanity which always remains unbroken and from which we can all take heart.

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Old 09-20-2011, 03:28 PM   #3
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I commented in the nomination thread, so I'll just repeat myself in this one...

I liked the book, but don't think it should have been included in the literature book club. It was a great, fascinating story, but the writing didn't do much for me. It would have been a great book for the other book club.
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Old 09-22-2011, 12:55 PM   #4
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I did not read this book for several reasons. I have a question about one of them. I read that he had a spiritual awakening and interacted with Billy Graham which I interpreted as pages about him being a born again fundamentalist. I get enough of this with certain family members so I passed on the book.

My question is does he have a spiritual awakening or is he born again? And if he is born again is it a big part of the book or ignorable?

I can ignore a moderate amount of religion in a book. Is this a book where I can tune the religion out?
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Old 09-22-2011, 03:02 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by toomanybooks View Post
I did not read this book for several reasons. I have a question about one of them. I read that he had a spiritual awakening and interacted with Billy Graham which I interpreted as pages about him being a born again fundamentalist. I get enough of this with certain family members so I passed on the book.

My question is does he have a spiritual awakening or is he born again? And if he is born again is it a big part of the book or ignorable?

I can ignore a moderate amount of religion in a book. Is this a book where I can tune the religion out?
Here is my response. I put it a spoiler to not to give away the ending of the book to those who have not finished yet.



Spoiler:
The subject of Louie Zamperini's religious transformation does not come up until chapter 38 of the book. There are 39 chapters. The following excerpt from a Voice of America article explains more:

Quote:
STEVE EMBER: Louie Zamperini was in prison for over two years, until the war ended in nineteen forty-five. While the American military believed him to be dead, his family never gave up hope that he had survived. But his struggles did not end with the war. After returning home, Mr. Zamperini faced great emotional pain from the stress of his experiences, as many soldiers did after the war. He drank too much alcohol. His behavior nearly destroyed his marriage. He was filled with hatred and anger for his captors.

But in time, he found help with religion. He found work teaching troubled boys about sports and the outdoors. And, he came to accept his past and offer forgiveness to his captors. Louie Zamperini has spent much of his life traveling. He talks about his experiences so his story can help others.
Religion is not a big part of the book but in the end it became a part of his life. Since this is a story of his life it needed to be told. And if you think that Louie Zamperini has become a full blown fundamentalist I will leave you with this quote towards the end of the book and you can make your own decision. He is talking to a group of troubled boys.

Quote:
Each evening , Louie sat with boys before a campfire, telling them about his youth, the war, and the road that had let him to peace. He went easy on Christianity, but laid it before them as an option.
Link to VOA article:

http://www.voanews.com/learningengli...121190159.html


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Old 09-22-2011, 03:43 PM   #6
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Thanks, That sounds doable. I might give the book a channce.
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Old 09-22-2011, 08:10 PM   #7
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I think Louie's story is very interesting. And we learned a lot about what life was like for a lot of the POW's of the Japanese. We thought the German's were bad. The Japanese were a lot worse.

Louie was an honorable man in the face of what he went through. He did endure a lot of hardship, but he never gave up or gave in.

The religious aspect is not really all that much and it's not something that's in your face. It's a part of Louie's life. But there is nothing there to turn anyone off (IMHO).


For those who did not read this because you thought it wasn't literature, you are dead wrong. Literature is not about fancy words or prose. It's about telling the story in a way that grips the reader and keeps the reader reading more. It's telling the story so that you get a lot out of it. Unbroken definitely is literature. Some of the books that are called literature may have fancy writing and good prose, but if the story is not interesting, it's not really literature.
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Old 10-02-2011, 02:41 PM   #8
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When I began Unbroken I was rather disappointed with the first section. Probably the strong point of Laura Hillenbrand's style is her ability to marshall carefully researched factual material into a coherent pattern. In that first part dealing with Louis Zamperini's disturbed childhood, I feel that she missed an opportunity to develop the deeper effects of those years on the adult who became so astonishingly heroic in later life...... Perhaps she should have explored the causes of changes in his character more than she did. I accept that she does give a great deal of material about that time in Zamperini's life--I just think that she could have analysed it more carefully and more seriously.
I really wish I could have jumped into this discussion sooner, but I have been overwhelmed by work commitments and traveling which made it too difficult to post. I have already posted several of my thoughts in the nomination thread. Now it's been several weeks since I read the book, and I need to review my notes and recollect my thoughts. However, I wanted to start with this point. I was disappointed with the first part too. I think that there were missed opportunities to explore more of his character from a psychological viewpoint in both the first and last sections. It wouldn't have to be too deep, just a little more discussion would have been beneficial. The writing style of the first part was not as effective as the remainder of the book as well.

The first part was critical to set the stage on why Louie responded to the POW experience so differently than others did. It was also important to understand his family and how they reacted to the news that he was missing. That must have been a horrific experience not to know whether your loved one was missing or dead, living in this state of limbo. I was emotionally affected by the discussion of the mothers of the missing men who were on the Green Hornet's last flight. I especially reacted to the scene where Louie's mother finds out that he is really alive.

I did not know that Japan broadcast radio shows featuring Allied POW's. If you would like to learn more, then here is a link to an interesting Wikipedia article on this topic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Zer...(World_War_II)

Last edited by Bookworm_Girl; 10-02-2011 at 02:46 PM. Reason: Fixed typos
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Old 10-04-2011, 12:25 AM   #9
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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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Old 10-08-2011, 12:47 PM   #10
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I like airplanes so while researching the Japanese Zero I came across this military training video starring Ronald Reagan. The link to the list of Allied propaganda films from WW2 is interesting too.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recogni...e_Zero_Fighter

There are great photos of the B24 aircraft at this google link. Also you can find loads of videos of the B24 and B29 on YouTube.
http://www.google.com/search?q=b-24&...w=1440&bih=717

I especially liked the image of the B24's on the assembly line at Willow Run, where in full production they could produce one B24 per hour. That's an unbelievable, amazing rate to assemble 1,225,000 parts! Here is a YouTube video produced by the Ford Motor Company about Willow Run and the manufacture of the B24.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_CUPA0k0fw

Links like these make me think of the effort that everyone (including those at home and not on the fighting front-lines) put into the war effort. There are several airfields around my area that were used for training pilots during the war. Not just American pilots but also British and Chinese. I drive past one of these airfields everyday. Now it sits empty and there are carcasses of modern aircraft resting there that you can see from the road. The discussion in the book about Louie's training experiences made me think about how these airfields near me must have been used. I was shocked by the statistic that nearly 15,000 personnel died stateside during the war due to aircraft accidents most likely never seeing any combat (reference page 81 of the EPUB version). Because of the climate of the Southwest, they still do much training here today. In fact, Prince Harry just arrived in the US this week to train for several weeks on helicopters in the middle-of-nowhere Arizona.
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Old 10-08-2011, 02:38 PM   #11
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I especially liked the image of the B24's on the assembly line at Willow Run, where in full production they could produce one B24 per hour. That's an unbelievable, amazing rate to assemble 1,225,000 parts! Here is a YouTube video produced by the Ford Motor Company about Willow Run and the manufacture of the B24.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_CUPA0k0fw
Thanks for posting the YouTube link. What an amazing production facility and how sad to see it shuttered when driving past on I-94 today.
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Old 10-08-2011, 03:16 PM   #12
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The religious aspect is not really all that much and it's not something that's in your face. It's a part of Louie's life. But there is nothing there to turn anyone off (IMHO).
I agree with Jon that the religious aspect throughout the book was very subtle. His religious reawakening during the Billy Graham sermon is covered in about 10 pages near the end of the book. He didn't want to go to the sermons. His wife told him a little lie that there was lengthy discussion about science there to convince him to give it a chance. The chapter is more about his resistance and really only one significant paragraph covers his moment of letting go. However the chapter is important because the experience deeply affected him and influenced him in his life from that point forward. He threw out his alcohol, he stopped being haunted by nightmares, he had an amazing capacity of forgiveness when he revisited Japan and his tormentors, his work with the Victory Boys Camp, etc.

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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.
The title didn't bother me. I think that Louie had a rare strength of character that was nearly broken many times, but his incredible resilience always triumphed. Although every time I read a sentence in the book that tied back to the title it made me cringe a little. However, I did a search on the word broken and was surprised that it actually wasn't overly used. There were 30 references, but the majority were related to injuries like broken bones and other non-title related meanings. Unbroken was used 3 times. I also liked that the book followed the lives of other men as they returned home from the war, and sadly some of them did not fare as well. The book says that 8 years after the war 1/3 of Pacific POW's were still classified as 50 to 100 percent disabled, and 40 years after the war one study said 85% of Pacific POW's suffered from PTSD. Reference Pages 396-399 of the EPUB version for the in-depth statistics. Part of what I enjoyed about the book was that it was not all about one man's experience.

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Old 10-14-2011, 05:24 PM   #13
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I had a problem with the bit about the chocolate in the life raft. The story changed after the two men on the raft with Louis were dead.
There was sense that here weren't many POWs at the camp. There were 750 men there.
Focusing on one man eliminated the horror of what took place in Japanese POW camps.
It wasn't a good book in my opinion. The writer didn't know enough about WWII in the Pacific Theater to write this story.
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Literary The MobileRead Literary Book Club July 2011 Discussion: Bleak House sun surfer Book Clubs 39 08-13-2011 05:37 PM


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