I love narrative non-fiction; I really do. Throw in anything related to WWII and normally I’m sold. But Laura Hillenbrand also wrote Seabiscuit which is about a horse. Horses, I do not love. I recognize their beauty, but they bore me to death. For some reason and despite the overwhelming number of people to recommend Unbroken, I avoided this novel written by the lady who wrote an entire novel about a horse. I was afraid.
Color me stupid. What an utterly ridiculous excuse not to read this novel which turned out to be one of the best books I read in 2012 (that post is coming soon!). Hillenbrand is a genius and Louie Zamperini’s story is breathtaking. The things that man accomplished and survived – from celebrated Olympic athlete to WWII bombardier and Japanese POW, I could not believe how richly his life unfolded. But even more than these amazing feats, I enjoyed his ‘aftermath’ story the most. It wasn’t nearly as flashy, but hit home on such a deeply emotional layer than I can only tell you that Hillenbrand is, in fact, a narrative non-fiction goddess.
I really don’t know what else to say that won’t just end up being a gushy mess all over this post. You must go read this yourself if you haven’t yet. Throughout the narrative are pictures, bits of historical data, and fascinating sideways plots (I’ll always remember you, Lost) come together flawlessly to create not only Louie’s story, but the story of an entire generation. I love that Hillenbrand, while focused on Louie, also gives much deserved attention to the important people in Louie’s life and other brave men and women who have stories that probably will never grace the pages of their own bestseller.
I really can’t find one single, solitary criticism. By the end of Louie’s story I was grinning like a mad fool – especially at the picture of him skateboarding in his 70s or 80s. Mr. Zamperini, you are a true American classic and Ms. Hillenbrand, I’d pick you over all others to pen my own biography. I’d even allow you to include a horse or two.
Pssssst…should I read Seabiscuit? Someone convince me in the comments. It won’t take much.