Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Challenge: One Down

The first book I've completed for the 2015 Reading Challenge.

As others in our Facebook group have commented, the 2015 reading challenge is already giving us rewards. I, for one, have read a fantastic book that I certainly would not have read if it were not for this friendly bit of peer pressure/rivalry.

Title: Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Pages: 457 (including endnotes)
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Category for the challenge: either new author or book I already have at home but haven't read.

There are two reasons why I would likely not have read this book:
  1. I'm more into fiction than non-fiction, particularly when it comes to war stories. 
  2. It has been a very, very long time since I read a hard-copy book.
As it happens, the non-fiction aspects of this book were every bit as shocking as any war story could be. The story follows Louis "Louie" Zamperini as he moves from rebellious teenager to Olympic athlete to soldier. He miraculously survives 47 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean and is captured by the Japanese, whereupon he is delivered to Prisoner-of-War camps of horrific hardship, endurance, pain, and humiliation.

The hardest parts of the story to read -- and, not surprisingly, the parts of the book that made it impossible to put down -- concern the abuses Louie experienced in camp at the hands of Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed "the Bird," the sadistic sergeant who got off on physically tormenting the prisoners, especially the officers, and most particularly Louie.
[The Bird] derived another pleasure from violence. According to Hatto [another POW], Watanabe was a sexual sadist, freely admitting that beating the prisoners brought him to climax. "He did enjoy hurting POWs," wrote Hatto. "He was satisfying his sexual desire by hurting them."
Great. A prison guard who is a sexual sadist. What could possibly go wrong?

Some thirty percent of Americans in Japanese POW camps died. Compare that to approximately one percent mortality rate in European POW camps. This, in part, is because there was an official Japanese "kill-all" policy that directed camp commanders to slaughter every last prisoner rather than allow any repatriation. But it is also because the treatment of these prisoners was beyond hellish.

Hillenbrand's strength as a writer is that she manages to convey all of this without being maudlin or "tabloid" about it. Her research (with copious citations for her sources and an index) would make this a compelling history text book.

Louie's reunion with his mother
(and sisters).
Shortly after he was freed, Louie commented to one journalist, "If I knew I had to go through those experiences again, I'd kill myself." But, in the thick of it, Louie's survival is a testament to the human drive to defy death.

Louie's post-war survival is a story in itself, and I am heartily glad that Hillenbrand included it in the book.

I will say that I found the book difficult to "get into" at first and that I did not enjoy reading a "hard copy" book after many years of reading on a Kindle. Between the heft of the book and the arthritis in my hands, I found it painful to read for long, and I couldn't read in bed without disturbing Stephen.. The rest of the books on the list will likely be electronic.

Stay tuned to find out what book I read next. (I haven't decided yet; I have a bunch of samples on my Kindle and will see what strikes my fancy!)

Does this sound like a book that you would like to read?


  1. This book sounds very interesting. Not something I would normally read myself, but I may check it out. I actually just saw it recommended on Twitter as well.
    And if you're not going to count it towards your book that you already have, you could count it towards the last category in the challenge- 3 different genres, since you don't generally read non-fiction, and since that category is worth the most points.
    And I have to comment the one thing I dislike about reading a book on an eReader is not being as aware of how much is left. And even with the percentage at the bottom, there is often additional material at the end that counts in that, but that you can't flip to the back and see, so you are therefore thrown off when you think your book is about to get into some action, and you click to turn the page and BAM! Your Kindle is asking you to rate the book. Yes, this just happened to me. :P Otherwise I'm totally with you on the ease of reading on a Kindle vs. an actual book.

    1. Yes, I forgot about that annoyance. There are several annoyances, actually. The idiosyncratic typos are annoying as well. I had one book that spelled service "ser vice" throughout the entire book, and it was a book that dealt with "shell shock" of WW II, so it occurred frequently.


What did you think? Any comments?

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