Heart of a lion

"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand provides story of redemption in the face of trials

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Photo by Dawson Kelley

Photo illustration

Story by Langley Leverett, feature editor

Recently, I read “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, and I have to admit that it is the most resonating book I have had the chance of reading in months. It tells the heart-wrenching true story of Louis Zamperini, an American World War II soldier who faced impossible odds with grim determination and smiled in the face of absolute anguish. It is the ultimate tale of survival, the fight against degradation and the sweet discovery of salvation.

Hillenbrand stumbled upon Zamperini’s story while rummaging through old newspaper clippings from the ’40s. Astounded and personally touched by the veteran’s perilous trial, she made the decision to bring this story to life. Through networking connections, she succeeded in landing an interview with the lighthearted survivor, thus commencing the making of “Unbroken.”  Spoken through the memories of Zamperini, this memoir is proof that “a minute of pain is worth a lifetime of glory.”

Furthermore, in a war where mercy was practically nonexistent, Zamperini was ruthlessly forced to learn how to survive in the most cruel, barbaric circumstances. Lost at sea for 47 days, imprisoned in the harshest prison camps on the Japanese frontier and robbed of his humanity, how he managed to stay afloat could not possibly ever be explained by mere coincidence.

Hillenbrand narrates Zamperini’s inconceivable story in an unseen light; she exhibits man’s ability to return to a state of compassion despite the inhumane situations he endured. Not only does the author show the physical impact war can have on the body and the environment, but Hillenbrand also reveals the creeping black stain of emotional and mental trauma that remains long after the fight.

One would think that after all Zamperini endured, his years as a soldier would define his life. However, Zamperini was adamant in proving that he was not just a soldier. No, he was also a son, a father, a faithful Christian, and most importantly, an inspiration.

To be robbed of possibly everything that qualifies as human and yet still make a full circle, Zamperini exemplifies true strength by granting forgiveness to his tormentors. In the beginning of his recovery, Zamperini was obsessed with doling out revenge to his captors. However, after attending a church service, preached by none other than Billy Graham himself, he found the strength to forgive them; by doing this, he was finally able to escape his inner demons and receive closure.

Potent in the battle of perseverance and rich in redemption, “Unbroken” stands as the favorite novel I’ve had the privilege of getting my hands on, which says volumes considering I don’t have a “favorite” book. Louis Zamperini had a soul of steel and a heart of a lion, and will forever be remembered for his courageous battle against evil.

By investing her time and energy into spreading Zamperini’s story, Hillenbrand exhibits the significance of remembering past horrors executed against the world and crimes committed against humanity. As individuals, and as the future’s hope in preventing catastrophe, it is mankind’s sacred duty to never forget the atrocities committed during WWII. For if we do, we deserve whatever comes our way.