This was one of those books that kept me up at night, literately and figuratively. There were some nights I would say, "OK, one more chapter," and I would get to the end of the chapter and say, "OK, just one more." But it was 11:30 PM, and I had to go to bed.
Then there was the night that I dreamed I found a huge bag of bird seed in my shed, which I did not know I had. I was so excited to put it out for the birds. As I was digging through the bag, I found small dead sparrows within, though it wasn't frightening; it was just odd. Of course, then I remembered the last chapters I had read before bed were about how Louis was catching birds that landed on his small raft in the Pacific. He was eating them to stay alive.
Louis Zamperini grew up in America in the 1920s, leading a very troubled life, until he found his edge: running. In high school he broke records, and it took him to the Olympics in Germany. While he did not win a medal, he was set to return to the Olympics in four years. But WWII began in Europe, and the Olympics were cancelled.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Louis joined the army. During one mission, the plane he was flying in crashed into the Pacific, marking his new mission: a horrific ordeal of survival that lasted 47 days on a life raft and two years as a Japanese prisoner. I am not even going to share with you the details because they are simply unspeakable.
However, I will share this: the ending is amazing. Unlike so many other POWs, Zamperini made it home alive. He made it home, but here began his second ordeal of having to assimilate back into society and live a normal life. Unfortunately, as a POW, his dignity had been stripped away from him. How do you get that back?
Every night Zamperini was haunted by his captors, specifically this one guard who personally hated him. Zamperini turned to drinking and vowed to return to Japan, find this particular guard, and murder him. But his drinking was destroying his ability to make a living, and his wife was ready to leave him.
But then something encouraged her to stay, and she persevered and convinced him to hear about Christ. He resisted, and he wanted to reject admitting anything about his sinfulness and need for repentance. But the message pierced his soul, and in the blink of an eye, in an instant, he was changed. AMAZING! The way he knew he was changed was because he immediately lost the desire to seek revenge on the Japanese guard who tormented his mind. He forgave him. In fact, the night he was changed, he never had a nightmare about this guard again.
From then on he worked for good and made a difference in the world. He died peacefully on July 2, 2014. I will probably never reread this story again because of its difficult content, but I am grateful that I did read it once because it has given me a lot to think about, specifically about perseverance and forgiveness.
Look for the movie about his life coming soon: