Review: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Monday, November 17, 2014

Title: Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Pages: 406
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical, Biographical
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: November 16, 2010

It is November and I finally have my first five star read of the year! I read all the rave reviews when this first came out, but I literally had no. interest. whatsoever. at that time. It's hard to believe I ever felt that way, but it's possible that my interest in war related topics has just increased that much since 2010. (Although, seriously, even if you don't have interest in that topic, in general, you have to read this!) I chose this as my book club pick for the next month, which will be in January, and I'm so glad I chose it because I would have missed out on something absolutely amazing if I skipped this and now I can make everyone else read it too! :)  Plus, I am excited about the movie coming out, directed by Angelina Jolie, and the Oscar buzz it's eliciting!

This book enthralled me. I could not put it down... reading this was the last thing I did before bed each night and the first thing I did each morning (for the few short days I was reading it, anyway). I went into it remembering one specific review that had stuck out to me back in the day; that reviewer stated they could not at all believe that someone had gone through all this and felt much of it must have been fabricated. They also felt it was a very self-serving story. I can see where every time something happened it was like, seriously?? But, in reality, as extreme as it is, I choose to believe it all. And I certainly did NOT come away from this thinking negatively or skeptically of Louis Zamperini. The opposite, actually! And it is insane what Louis Zamperini went through. What I had trouble believing, if anything, was that a human being could endure all that this person endured. That was probably the hardest, but there were many men who endured what he did (and one other who endured being lost at sea for 47 days with him) so we know it can happen. I wrote down a few quotes from Hillenbrand's fantastic writing, but here is one of my favorites:
"Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty." (pg. 189, paperback copy).
I feel like in the end, that's what this book and this story are about. Dignity, and how maintaining or restoring it is what makes people resilient. It's how we move forward. This books provides a long look at the best of people and their resilience as well as into the worst of people when they are put into a situation of power and authority. Although this is about the life of Louis Zamperini, I thought Hillenbrand did a great job of narrating not just his life but those of other soldiers as well and narrating the circumstances, in general. I also liked that the book didn't end when the war did. Hillenbrand continues on afterward to describe the aftermath of war on the soldiers including their experiences with PTSD; she includes the outcomes of the lives of the captors, and this last section about the aftermath of the war is just as interesting as the rest of the story. It was also interesting to read this WWII story specifically because almost everything we read about this war is about what took place in Europe, especially in Germany, but the atrocities in Japan were on par with that of Germany and we don't hear much about it.

I just don't have the words... I cannot express what I want about this book because I loved it so much. I had to stop sometimes to reflect on what I had just read or to let myself cry or just to take a breath. But it was always a short break since I couldn't put it down! I would say it's on my list of the best EVER books. I will recommend this again and again... along with a box of tissues.

Review: Frankenstein

Monday, November 3, 2014

Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Pages: 241
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Signet Classics (Penguin)
Pub. Date: March 11, 1818

Jason and I chose Frankenstein as our Halloween/October/Fall read-a-long this year. (I read the signet classic mass market paperback version pictured at the top, but Jason read a really nice hardcover that included illustrations which is pictured on the right).

Overall, it was just okay. It certainly was not one of the scariest books ever, as many lists online try to say. Maybe in 1818 the thought of it was scary. I think maybe the theme itself was sort of scary, more so than the actual plot. The theme being how sometimes we get carried away and the decisions we make will haunt us and create horrible consequences.

In case you weren't aware of the origin of this story, Victor Frankenstein is a scientist who decides he can create a living creature, so he toils away in his laboratory until he creates a living being. This creature, who remains nameless, (yes, Frankenstein refers only to the scientist who created the monster), is a gruesome being who scares people in his image alone and whose actions taunt Frankenstein.

This was a pretty sluggish read. Even though it was less than 250 pages, and even though the story itself is interesting enough, it was so drawn out and could have used some editing... Part of this is that it was written in 1818 and maybe that's just how people talked?? (The story is all told in first person, though there are a few different narrators)... but I've read other older classics and didn't always feel this way. I wanted to shout at it to "move on already!" Jason felt the same way. It became a running joke that we each had to sit down and push on through. In fact, the last night I was reading it I only had about seven pages left and just could not stay awake for them, and it felt like it took me forever the next morning to finish those pages!

I mentioned earlier that parts of it were so ridiculous. Frankenstein is considered one of the first science fiction novels ever written. But the science fiction part of it, such as when the monster is created, had me laughing with the lack of reality. Whereas nowadays, even a fictional story would have to have some type of rationality that even if unreal makes sense in the story, in Frankenstein, it was more like... he wanted to create a living being, so he worked hard in his laboratory, and voila! a monster is made! Many parts of the book lacked the kind of detail and polish that could have more thoroughly illustrated the scene; this is despite feeling in other ways that the book was sluggish with over narration.

All that being said, Frankenstein really wasn't horrible... it is just definitely outdated. It was still interesting to read the origin of the story that has become so well known today. I won't even say that I would never read it again... I do think that talking about the themes of the book etc. would make it a good group read. And with Jason and I reading it together, there were many times we were able to talk about the plot and laugh at something ridiculous or be confused together about when something happened or exclaim at a plot point together. It was also very interesting to see how the modern interpretation of Frankenstein differs so dramatically from the original one created by Mary Shelley. Jason feels that reading the illustrated version improved his experience of the book, though that one is a heavy copy so you would need to plan on keeping that one at home!

I give this one 3 out of 5 stars.