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The lady who chose this book is married to a military man and she herself has served in the military. But don't think that this book is only interesting to the military-minded. My dad was in the Air Force but even so, I am not overly patriotic. Yet, I found a lot of enjoyment in this book - as much as such heart-break and horror can be enjoyable. I will certainly never look at a POW the same way again. I really never gave it much thought before, but I always imagined that they sat in front of fans playing dominoes all day in the POW camps. After reading this book I've come to believe that it's a subject that people don't want to know the truth about, it is easier to believe the dominoes and fans fantasy than to come to terms with the harsh reality as presented in this book.

On a scale of 1 - 5

Sex: 1

Religion: 3

Gruesome: 4

Suspense: 2

Morality: 1

Sex - It's a bunch of men in a wartime environment...there are going to be some references to women. But nothing too detailed as sex really wasn't an issue in this story.

Religion - The focus of the story loses and finds his religion yet, even after his renewed faith, the religion is not dwelt on heavily.

Gruesome - There were several stomach turning passages. Hillenbrand provides enough detail so that we feel for what these men suffered, but we don't know exactly in which corner of the cell their drops of blood landed.

Suspense - Knowing this is a true story and that someone must have survived to tell it, logically leaves little room for suspense. But not knowing exactly at what moment the crash will come, or the rescue will come, makes it slightly suspenseful.

Morality - Many of the prison guards appeared to have no morals at all based on the dehumanizing way they treated their captives. Even the excuse of war earns them little lenience in my book. There are a few good guards who will take a stand and for that I give them one point.

This is the biography of Louis Zamperini from early boyhood, through high school track, a run through the Olympics and then a lot of pages dedicated to his World War II experiences. It is incredibly detailed (more than a history book) yet amazingly interesting (again, more than a history book) and fluid. Hillenbrand has a writing style that makes the reading of a tedious difficult subject seem effortless. There are even glimpses of humor, such as the title to the eighth chapter, "Only the Laundry Knew How Scared I Was".

Reading the book jacket I already knew a plane was going to crash. Since the story is here for us to read I could also figure he survived. I took a while to get to the crash. It took a while to even get to the military service. Once we were there it seemed like there were countless flights and each time I thought it would be the crash. There were a lot of close calls but finally at the end of the tenth chapter it happens. And while he is adrift all the details leading up to that point are explained as to their over-detailed inclusion to demonstrate Louis' resilience.

At times I felt like I was watching a movie like The Hangover where just when you think nothing more can happen, it does.

As far as my likeability of characters spending long amounts of time in the water, I'm 50/50. I hated The Old Man and the Sea but enjoyed Life of Pi. still, I didn't expect to like this book since I'm not a fan of war stories. somehow though, Ms. Hillenbrand jumped all the hurdles I put up. She has a gift for setting the pace, in spite of extraordinary amounts of detail, that keeps it moving and engaging. I was never bored or even considered not finishing.

Initially I got the book on CD and the eleven discs was a little scary. I knew I'd need to attack hard to get through this large of a book on a subject I did not think would be interesting. So, as soon as it was available, I also downloaded a library copy to my Kindle app on my phone. And, soon after I picked up the hard back at the library as well. I finished the book in three weeks - largely via the audio format which I'd listen to about 20 minutes at a time probably three days a week and then other bits and pieces of audio or reading crammed in here and there whenever I could.

I was glad I did look through the hard back though because the audio could not convey the photos, especially the priceless one towards the end of the eightyish Louis riding a skateboard. There were also several interesting footnotes that were not read on the CD. And I enjoyed reading the acknowledgements, especially the first few pages of them that detail how the descendents played a part in bringing this story to fruition. There was the first place I saw any reference to Ms. Hillenbrand's illness (unnamed). So I let my fingers do the searching and came up with this short narrative she wrote about her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Aside from that I was also left wondering about Louis - is he still alive. According to wikipedia he is and made a TV appearance as recent as June 2012.

Discussion Questions

Question: Did seeing the Olympics in parallel with the Holocaust show you any new insight into world events that were not shown in books like The Diary of Anne Frank or Sarah's Keys?

Question: Hillenbrand includes an enormous amount of details, as far as the name of the pet of the fiancee (Cecy) of the partner (Phil) of Lou. How did such detailed accounts affect your enjoyment of the book?

Question: How did you feel to learn that more soldiers died from accident than combat?

Question: How did you feel to learn of the great numbers of men that were lost or missing?

Question: What kinds of emotions did you experience as you read about the treatment of the POWs?

Question: Can you conceive of a time when losing your dignity would be worse than all the physical things Louie suffered?

Discuss: "The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer." (p. 366) Have you ever experienced this paradox, even on a small scale?

Discuss: "...resentment, the emtion that, Jean Amery would write, 'nails every one of us on to the cross of his ruined past.' " (p. 367)

Theme Ideas

Include a quoted passage from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner on your invitation to reference the poem Phil contemplated on the raft.

Serve: Gummy Sharks or Shark Steaks as a tribute to all the sharks the men survived in the water.

Serve: Sushi to represent the raw fish they ate in the raft and the rice from POW camp.

Serve: Rice balls like the POWs ate.

Serve Spaghetti and Pumpkin Pie like the men fantasized about Louise's recipes.

Label your bathroom with a sign that says "benjo".