What Does it Mean to Be “Unbroken”?

Every summer for the past maybe 20 summers our family has gotten together for a vacation with extended family. We have for several years now had a book club. This year we read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

There is a helpful summary from the author’s web site:

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

Here is a video summary you might find interesting, with Zamperini interviewed:

His conversion to Christianity after the war is also an important part of his story (at a Billy Graham revival, by the way).

For those interested in psychology of religion research, the book raises questions about personal transformation through religious conversion. It is interesting the promise Zamperini made to God when at a desperate moment in his own life. He would remember that at the revival after the war. Other areas of interest would include resilience in the face of adversity and how people make meaning or significance out of events in their lives, including trauma.

The title of the post asks, “What does it mean to be ‘Unbroken’?” because part of our book club discussion covered whether Zamperini was ever “broken” by the many events, trials, and traumatic experiences that transpired in his life. We didn’t reach consensus, and I’ll leave the reader to answer the question for him or herself.  What I will say is that Unbroken is a powerful story of endurance and redemption, and I recommend it.

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