Takeaway: There is good reason that this book over 1000 5 star reviews on Amazon, named book of the year by Time and is still number two on New York Times best seller list after six months.
I started hearing very positive reviews of Unbroken right after it came out. It was on my wishlist but I did not actually buy it until Louis Zamperini came and read the letter that is at the end of the book during a sermon at our church on Forgiveness. You can watch/listen here, Zamperini’s part starts at 35:49 (make sure you are watching message 2).
Even so it was not until I saw the book in our library’s audiobook system, that I actually decided to read it. I was hesitant because while I think that the stories of war and degradation that comes about as a result of war are stories that need to be told, they are not fun stories to hear.
The whole time, I knew that Zamperini would make it through, since I saw him, but I did not know the result for anyone else. Many people die. I have read some accounts of Nazi concentration camps and Japan was every bit as bad, in some ways worse than the Nazi camps. At the end of the book it says that the post war death rates of prisoners of war that returned to the US from Japan were significantly higher than those that returned from Europe.
I am writing this minutes after I finished the book and I am quite mixed. This book shows the horrible things that one human can do to another. Things that are difficult to even imagine witnessing, happened every day to these prisoners. The average prisoner of war from Japan lost 71 pounds (from an average starting weight of 151 pounds). And that does not speak at all to the physical and psychological abuse.
But part of me wonders at why as Christians we spend so much time on “Utter Depravity” as a theological tenant. I believe that all are sinful and that some are plain sadistic. But even in the worst places of the prisoner of war camps, there was often one guard or one person that offered just a little bit of kindness. And often this kindness was done with real chance of reprisal. Part of what struck me about the acts of kindness is how much power that one person’s kindness can counteract. Clearly, the book is not telling everything, I think it softened some things quite a bit actually. And I am sure that the author was striving to illustrate the basic arc of ‘unbroken’ throughout.
Part of me wants to talk about the reasons for the Geneva convention and why we need to have a strict no-torture policy within the US at all times, but that probably distorts from the actual point of the book. The book is about the forgiveness that a man can feel from God and then the forgiveness that he can give to others based on the forgiveness that he has received. If anyone has a reason to hate, it is Louis Zamperini. Instead, he has had a life that is marked by and he has become known for the power of forgiveness.
My only concern about this book is that he seems to have been one of the few that God miraculously heals of alcoholism and PTSD. I know it can happen, but most people are not healed all at once. Most people spend years struggling for healing. I am grateful to know that God does heal people miraculously like this, but I do not think it is the standard model of healing for either PTSD or alcoholism.
Contributor David Sawyer also has his review of Unbroken on Bookwi.se