Here's my review of my favorite read of 2011:
One tip for writers to evoke emotion in their stories is to put their characters through hell, and I've never witnessed such emotional torture of a character. I was on the verge of tears for most of the book and at one point sobbed, reading what Louie suffered. What makes this story even more emotionally compelling is that Louie isn't a fictional character. He's a real Olympic runner, Air Force veteran, and inspirational speaker, now age 94.
Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, did exhaustive research for this novel and I'm proud to say I attended the same liberal arts college as she did (Kenyon College). I loved learning about the early days of competitive running . . . the firm belief that no human could break the 4:00 mile barrier . . . archaic ideas that training hills would make a runner slower . . . the cruise ship completely hindering training and race preparation as the American athletes traveled to Berlin for the 1936 Olympics.
But what was most educational were there fascinating details of WWII. I had no idea that rescue flights for downed air crew over the Pacific were so unsuccessful. Rescue missions often caused even more deaths. Most WWII novels and movies cover the European theater, but The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons taught me about the events in Russia, and this novel Unbroken really educated me about Japan's role in the Pacific.
My book club recently read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which highlighted the unfair treatment of Japanese-Americans in the internment camps during WWII. Unbroken shows a very different side---the unimaginable cruelty of the Japanese toward their prisoners of war. I developed a thirst for vengeance reading what these poor POW's suffered. But to seek vengeance or to view only one side is to miss the point of this novel and of Louie's life entirely. Louie's indomitable, forgiving spirit is truly a gift of God. His story is such a spiritual masterpiece that it absolutely confirms my faith in God. Gah, I'm welling up in tears again just writing this review!
It's so rare to find a meaningful read like this one. I know Louie's story will stay with me for some time.