The Second World War has been over for nearly 70 years; thousands of participants in that drama pass away every month, and yet the personal accounts continue to come forth, fascinating and humbling us, their progenitors. This tale is no exception, focusing on the extraordinary experiences of Louis Zamperini, a gifted athlete who chose to serve his nation in 1941.
Every aspect of his early life is examined in detail, from his humble beginnings in southern California, his amazing feats in track and field (including a trip to the 1936 Berlin Olympics), to his nearly unbelievable survival in Japanese prison camps during the last two years of World War II. Many of his life experiences flow like a novel, and knowing that this is nonfiction actually makes portions of the narrative very, very difficult to read.
The man keeps the reader guessing as well; one never knows just how he is going to react to a particular situation, and I found myself judging erroneously multiple times. Understanding his thought processes is a valuable addition to the narrative, especially those portions associated with his internment. So-called “survivor guilt” is a very real phenomenon that many of us will never fully comprehend, but we get some glimpses into those feelings through the carefully written descriptions of his decision making.
The chapters chronicling his post-war life are abbreviated, and although all the loose threads from earlier are satisfactorily tied up, that was the single factor that I did not like. I understand that the man’s experiences over his first 30 years of life profoundly determined the rest of his pursuits, but the hurried feel of that portion left me frustrated. The brief snapshots of his work as an adult looked very interesting, and I found myself wanting more detail.
Overall, the work is certainly a page-turner. This generation of Americans will not be with us much longer, and it is appropriate that our national awareness is directed toward them. In fact, it makes me wonder when we will see similar texts profiling the courageous souls that fought battles in southeast Asia; it is certainly their turn by now to be recognized.
Rated: Moderate. A single f-word, mixed with just over a half-dozen instances of moderate terms. Just over a dozen uses of mild terms, and some battle-related descriptions of injuries. Although the prison camp descriptions are clear and concise, none are overly gory.