If You've Got The Winter Blues, Unbroken Is The Cure
When I am about to complain about things that really aren't serious enough to warrant complaint-- such as this ridiculously ugly winter-- certain stories prevent me from unnecessarily bitching, stories of people that have coped with far, far worse situations than I could ever imagine; inspirational tales of overcoming pain and anguish and hardship and suffering and loss . . . such as the story of Dieter Dengler's escape from a Laotian internment camp (retold by Werner Herzog in the movie Rescue Dawn) and the story of the American quadriplegic rugby team (documented in the film Murderball . . . if my students complain about an assignment, I put this movie in for a few minutes and then ask them if they actually have anything to complain about) and the story of Michael Oher (told by Michael Lewis in his book The Blind Side) and the story of Johan Otter and his daughter, Jenna, who survived a brutal attack by a grizzly bear and, though both were severely injured, they cheerfully tell the tale, glad they survived . . . and now I will add the Unbroken, the story of Louie Zamperini to this list; Zamperini was a wild Italian-American youth who channeled his frenetic energy into running, and who could have become the fastest miler in the world (and run a sub-four minute mile before Roger Bannister) if he didn't have to go to war and fight the Japanese . . . and his epic war story of ocean survival, torture, internment camp starvation and misery, and post-traumatic stress seems to be beyond what a human could actually endure . . . Laura Hillenbrand's book makes you root for the fire-bombing of Tokyo and the atomic bomb, for anything to end the torture that the POW's suffered at the hands of the Japanese (disturbing statistic: 1% of American POW's died in Nazi and Italian internment camps . . . 37% of American POW's died in Japanese camps) and Hillenbrand's writing is extensively researched and full of sensational details, yet she manages to give the narrative a novelistic feel-- you are with Louie every step of the way, during his bombing missions over the Pacific, when he and his raft-mates contemplate resorting to "the custom of the sea," his daily battles with The Bird, and his mental and spiritual battles with loss of dignity: ten shark livers out of a possible ten.