On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
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.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I don’t normally read biography/memoirs. And if I read anything remotely “historical” it’s usually historical fiction. If you can even really call that reading history.
I read an excerpt of this book with my class when we were going over types of non-fiction. I was surprised that so many of my kids enjoyed it! I made a replica of the raft the men were stuck on, on my floor using duct tape so they could see how big it was and I would have 3 of my boys in each class come sit in it so they could visualize how much space they had.
We looked at pictures from the time period and watched interviews of Louie Zamperini. Some of the kids enjoyed the book so much that they wanted to form a book club to finish reading it. So I got on Amazon and ordered 11 books and we read the teen adaption version. I haven’t read the original adult version but I heard it was more graphic.
It’s so amazing what Phil and Louie survived. From a plane crash, to great white sharks, to Japanese bombers, to POW camps, starvation, etc. They don’t make people that tough anymore.
I think the hardest parts to read in the book were the POW camp parts and the parts where it was describing his life once he came home and had to adjust to being a civilian again. He struggled with trying to find his love of running again,flashbacks, PTSD, alcoholism, and was abusive to his wife when she was pregnant. It’s so sad to think that someones life can change so drastically and how it’s almost worse for them when they come home. They don’t know how to be normal again after all of the trauma and struggling to survive for so long.
I plan on reading this book again with my students next year. I love seeing them get excited about history! And when they like what we’re reading! We watched a small part of the film too. Just the part where the men are on the raft. I have finished watching it yet but I hear the rest of it has graphic parts, sexual innuendos, and cussing.