Reader Review: "Unbroken"

by Joyce D (Tucson): I read books that cover the history of just about anything, and I love this genre. I’m delighted that there are new titles, about seemingly innocuous subjects, like Cod, that cover a vast span of history linking the main topic to the vast world in a significant way. Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is a history of the Second World War in the Eastern theater told in conjunction with the story of Louis Zamparini. We follow him from birth to publication, which is near the end of his long life. The book, therefore, covers one Italian family’s experiences in the history of the USA during that period. Growing up was hard to do. Running and military service gave Mr. Zamparini focus and direction in life, taking him away from some destructive behaviors he’d fallen into. Ms. Hillenbrand does a remarkable job of describing the nitty-gritty of situations and experiences that Zamparini encounters. In fact, I’m convinced that the book becomes historical fiction when descriptions speak of the way a man parted his hair (I really don’t care), or which side of the table she sat on (really?), or which tree the car was parked under when she cried her eyes out at 3:00 (oh, brother!). These details are the reasons why I will get to the first page of a book on, say, Queen Victoria, and toss it aside: it’s clear there will be much conjecture woven into the plot. I’m just looking for facts, and facts that are important to the story. I don’t really like it when an author gets into such detail about how many men hit him and how hard before the other guys were made to eat their own feces. I realize that sensationalism sells in our society. Also, telling a story with vivid details is a strong incentive to read it, keeping the reader involved on an organic level. But, to me, these are traits best left to fiction writers, which Ms. Hillenbrand definitely does not consider herself. Therein lies my problem with her story telling: it contrives details, it plays on readers’ emotions, and it relies on the grace of her audience to claim that the story is history rather than historical fiction. I, for one, can’t make that claim, though I realize there is a basis of fact behind the story.


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