I discovered the book Seabiscuit : An American Legend (my favorite movie) last March, over a decade after I first saw the movie. I picked it up without hesitation and then sobbed continuously over the 3 days that it took me to finish reading it. I had watched the movie over a dozen times, so it wasn’t the story that had charged up my emotions. It was Laura’s writing. Nearly 6 months later, I found her second book Unbroken and added it to my shopping cart. I moved cities soon after and it lay forgotten in my moving boxes until last weekend. I started reading on Monday morning and didn’t stop until I completed it on Wednesday morning. That’s Laura’s pull on a reader.
Her previous hero Seabiscuit was Louie Zamperini’s contemporary, perhaps in more ways than one. What strikes you is the stark similarity in their characters – the way they turned their lives around when almost everyone had given up on them. I recently recommended the former to a friend and he remarked how improbable the horse’s career sounded when you first heard about it. Louie Zamperini’s survival on a raft in the middle of the Pacific, floating amidst sharks and without survival supplies, followed by over two years in unimaginably inhuman Prisoner of War (POW) camps isn’t much different. Fiction is easier because the reader is mentally ready to believe in anything. When you write about factual instances, a heavy amount of research is required to resurrect every aspect of history. Non fiction also carries lofty expectations in terms of gripping the reader with a sense of tangible reality. Laura does far from disappoint on either account. A departure from the generic style of biography writing, Laura employs a journalistic narrative. The character’s life plays out before you so realistically that you wonder briefly if you’ve traveled through time. In instances, Louie’s antics make you grin and in others you cringe at the treatment he was meted out with. In the end you gape in wonder at his life – all 97 years worth. The boy who transformed from a petty thief to an Olympian runner, served as a bombardier, survived 47 days at sea, was stripped of dignity in a POW camp, suffered severe PTSD, and then emerged as a Christian Evangelist who found compassion and forgiveness in his heart for his captors.
Many books claim to be page turners. But few keep you reading well into the night until you pass out of exhaustion. Unbroken falls into the latter category.