“Unbroken” Book Review

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

This true story follows the life of Louis Zamperini (1917-2014) from his grade school years until his death at the age of ninety-seven. His was a life well worth the effort of reading this riveting, best selling book. In fact I have read it twice in seven years as well as seeing one of the two movies made of his life based upon this book.

Louie, as he was called, was a precocious young boy with a knack for getting into trouble. Somehow his family was always able to correct him without breaking his spirit for adventure. In high school he funneled his energies into running and while in college at the University of California he broke speed records which led him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where he met Adolph Hitler and set a new lap record.

Leaving college to join the Army Air Forces he became a bombardier during WWII. He, the pilot and one other man were the only survivors after his plane went down in the ocean during a search and rescue mission. They survived Japanese attacks, sharks and near starvation aboard an inflatable raft for forty-seven days. Only he and the pilot remained alive when they finally landed on the Japanese occupied Marshall Islands where they were captured.

The account of inhumane treatment in two different Japanese prison camps was difficult to read. The beatings and humiliations endured by Zamperini and his fellow prisoners of war are beyond my imagination. In spite of being singled out for the worst treatment because of his Olympic fame, he managed to survive. After discharge from the military Zamperini suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder leading to alcohol abuse and a tormented life. He was, however, unbroken and through a spiritual encounter he recovered and found forgiveness in his heart for his transgressors. He then devoted the rest of his life to working with at-risk youth.

I recommend this book and would award it five stars out of five.

Book Review – The Sunflower

“The Sunflower – On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness”

by Simon Wiesenthal

Mr. Wiesenthal, a Jew, was a prisoner in concentration camps during WWII. He was treated inhumanely and saw this family killed or starved to death. One day a dying SS soldier who had murdered Jewish families asked him for forgiveness.  

It seems that Wiesenthal was haunted by his response. He wrote this story in “The Sunflower” asking “what would you have done?” He searches for answers from people of many faiths and backgrounds. He is answered by over fifty individuals including Desmond Tutu, Harold Kushner, and the Dalai Lama. 

The answers given vary from emotional, heartfelt, to very intellectual.  The discussion is enlightening on many levels. I recommend Wiesenthal’s book and the responses by those he sought out – theologians, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, political leaders, former prisioners of war, writers and others – to answer his unrelenting question on forgiveness. You will never forget it. 

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“The Sunflower” was originally written in France in 1969. It has been translated, revised and had the symposium added at later dates. Wiesenthal died in 2005 at the age of 96.

 

Sunflower photo by Pixabay

Book Review – All The Light We Cannot See

“All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

This book has it all. It is filled with science and technology, mystery and poetry. It is a story of survival and love. “All the Light We Cannot See” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and the author has received other awards too numerous to list. 

The setting is WWII in Germany and France. There are two main characters, a blind young girl in Paris and a small boy in an orphanage in Germany. The way their lives are entwined is brilliant and endearing. Both young people bravely face near impossible odds against surviving and one of them wins. 

This story was riveting for me and I rank it as one of the best books I have read.  

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Book Review – The Night Trilogy

Elie Wiesel

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) authored 57 books. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and recipient of numerous other awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

After his time in concentration camps, he received asylum in France where he completed his education. His career included being a journalist and later a professor of Humanities at Boston University. His most important work, however, was as an activist and defender of human rights.  

The Night Trilogy Contains:

  • “Night” – a memoir of Wiesel’s year as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald 
  • Dawn” – a novel about the Jewish resistance in Palestine during English rule
  • “Day” – a novel about a Holocaust survivor’s obsession with death

The novels, “Dawn” and “Day” were captivating. They each reflected the permanent pain and disability from being a prisoner during the Holocaust. There are fragments which one knows are true to Wiesel’s personal anguish. 

“Night” was heartbreaking as the young Elie tells of the horrors of daily life in the concentration camps. His mother and younger sister were killed. His father died of starvation while in captivity during a brutal winter.

Originally a 900-page book entitled “And The World Remained Silent,” it was written in Yiddish then translated in this abridged version to English and thirty other languages. 

The inhumanities suffered by Wiesel and other prisoners are difficult to accept but should be read by everyone lucky enough to live free. 

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“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel

Book Review – The Book Thief

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

A few years ago someone told me about a movie entitled “The Book Thief” (released 2013). At the time I pictured a professional thief stealing valuable books from museums and universities. This Christmas I was given the book by the same name (published 2005). 

I was so surprised to learn that the thief is a nine-year-old girl in Nazi Germany. Having books unapproved by the party was a crime and put the girl and her foster family in danger. 

At first, I found the writing style a little disconcerting, but I quickly fell into the rhythm of this prolific award-winning  Australian author. Interestingly, the book’s narrator is death. Death is very busy during WWII as he comes for people of all ages. 

This fiction novel is listed as “Young adult literature” but I am glad I did know that or I may have missed a very good read. I loved the book and look forward to seeing the movie. 

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Russia

Brief History

During the “cold war” I grew up hearing about the evil Russians who lived in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). The country’s shortened name was the Soviet Union and even that sounded ominous. People with enough money to afford underground bomb shelters had them built. There were discussions about the hard decision of what to do if during a nuclear attack a neighbor wanted to enter your shelter. What would you do was the question, since you likely didn’t even have enough supplies to sustain your own family for long. My family didn’t have to worry about that dilemma, but I worried about what would happen to us. Hearing of new threats on the evening news or hearing adults talk about the possibility of a Russian bomb was very unsettling for children. It didn’t help that we had bomb drills at school where we were taught to duck under our desks for protection from the falling bombs!

Communism

Communism came to Russia, then called a Socialist Federation, in a revolt led by Vladimir Lenin in 1917. Joining other Socialist Republics in 1922 the country became the USSR. Millions later died of starvation or while working in forced labor camps under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. During World War II he led the Soviets in siding with Hitler but ended up losing over twenty-five million Soviet citizens. The Cold War between the US and the USSR followed this period. 

The last leader under the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, introduced a new openness called “glasnost” around 1986. He was elected President in 1990 and led the reformation of the Communist Party, called “perestroika.” Up to this time, Communism had discouraged all religions including the most prevalent Russian Orthodox. Boris Yeltsin was next elected and took the country further into democratic reform and to a free market system. 

Visit

In July of 1994, I visited Russia for seventeen days. It was worth every dollar spent, every inconvenience and every discomfort that I endured to learn that Russian people were not who I thought, who I had been taught. I will tell you more about what I learned in following posts. 

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Visa Application 02/18/1994

Part 1 of 6

 

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