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Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption- A Review

July 17, 2011

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Dysfunctional Literacy is supposed to be a comedy site, right?  One book reviewer here got to make fun of Snookie’s(?) novel(?).  Another pointed out the literary weaknesses of Tina Fey’s memoir.  Somebody else mocked Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series.  One of the reviewers here was even allowed to write a bunch of lame Moby Dick jokes.  What do I get?  A book about POWs getting tortured during World War II. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Unbroken is probably the best best-selling book I’ve read in a while.  And, despite its subject, it’s not even a downer.  I’m just miffed that I have to review a very serious book for a comedy blog, and if I don’t do it right, we lose our funding. 

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE TITLE? 

I might not be allowed to make fun of the book, but can I at least mock the title a little bit?  Please?  That’s an eleven word title (nine if you count World War II as one word).  It sounds like a term paper title turned in by a student trying desperately to impress a teacher.  Unbroken would have been a perfect title by itself.  If the publishers absolutely needed more, then they should have stopped at Survival.  But no, they had to show off by adding alliteration with Redemption and Resiliency.  Or was it Resiliency and Redemption

For the record, I know “resiliency” isn’t a word, but I like to say and write it. 

WHAT ABOUT A SYNOPSIS? 

We don’t do synopses (synopsi? synopsises?) at Dysfunctional Literacy because you can get those from any other site that discusses or reviews books.  We just tell you what we like and don’t like about the book, and we try to do it without giving away too much information. 

HOW DO YOU WRITE ABOUT TORTURE? 

The author, Laura Hillenbrand, had to be careful when writing about Japanese prison guard tactics.  If she had described it too brutally, she would have made it difficult for some of the more sensitive of readers to continue.  If she had sanitized it too much, readers would not have been able to grasp how difficult it was to survive. 

Hillenbrand’s writing style left me with kind of a detached feeling as I read about the abuse.   As bad as the conditions were described, I know in reality that the conditions were far worse.  It’s almost impossible to convey in words what the Japanese soldiers did to civilians and prisoners during World War II.  That’s why pictures from that time period are so important.  But the author describes the conditions without getting too graphic and keeps most of it plot driven.  The descriptions are graphic, but not gratuitous. 

WHO ATE THE CHOCOLATE?  

I know that as a mere blogger who has never served in the military, I don’t have any business second-guessing Louis Zamperini’s word about anything.  I just think there is more to the chocolate story than what the book says. 

If you’ve already read the book, you should know what I’m referring to.  If you haven’t read the book, I’m not allowed to go any further because we don’t do spoilers here. 

IS THE BOOK TOO LONG? 

At 496 pages, this book is cutting it close.  At Dysfunctional Literacy, we have a rule about not reading books over 500 pages long (with exceptions, of course).  In the hands of another author, this book would have been overwrought and overlong, but 500 pages is close to perfect. 

One section is about pre-war Louis.  Then we have World War II Louis.  Then we have post-war Louis (It’s not spoilers to let you know Louis survived World War II; otherwise, the title probably wouldn’t be Unbroken or have the word Survival in it.).  That’s about 500 pages worth of material, and I never felt the urge to break out my red editing (Tom Clancy) pen. 

The title might be too long, but the book isn’t.  Is that irony? 

THE CASE FOR READING UNBROKEN 

It’s a story worth telling, and the story is told well.  It’s a 500 page book that I never got bored with.  It’s difficult to keep a dysfunctional literate interested for 500 pages.  It’s also probably a sign of poor writing when you start four sentences in a row with the same word. 

THE CASE FOR NOT READING UNBROKEN 

Some readers might not care for the prisoner-of-war section of the book, which is long and graphic.  You might have to be in a certain frame of mind to read this. 

FINAL VERDICT 

Reviews at one of the online bookselling sites give it a 5-star average, which at over 1200 reviews is very rare and impressive.  I would give it four stars, a thumbs up, a yes, and a somewhat highly recommend. 

Hey, for me, a chronic whiner about the lack of quality in today’s literature, that’s high!

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