My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Laura Hillenbrand, as you may know, is also the author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend. In August of 2001, book reviewer Stephen Moss of The Guardian took the following pot shot at Hillenbrand’s prose before summing the story up as “overblown”…
Hillenbrand has a grand story to tell, though the manner of the telling is sometimes a little too grand for its own good. “Red Pollard was sinking downward through his life with the pendulous motion of a leaf falling through still air.” Rough translation: Seabiscuit’s jockey, Red Pollard, was having a tough time getting decent rides. In this world of superannuated superlatives, no adjective or fancy phrase is left unmolested: blisters can never be just blisters, they must be “angry” ones; George Woolf was not merely a very fine jockey, he was “supernatural”; the bookish Pollard didn’t hide in dark corners of the jockeys’ room, he “sequestered himself” there. LINK
Perhaps a fair criticism, perhaps not. I will only point out that by using “old” instead of “superannuated” Moss would have made a much more compelling case for simplicity of style.
Kevin Rushby, The Guardian’s reviewer of Hillenbrand’s Unbroken in 2011, was much kinder to the author and, in my opinion, more on the money…
[Hillenbrand] has a fine line in compelling narrative. Unbroken is no different: meticulously researched and powerful. LINK
Regardless of Hillenbrand’s fondness for dramatic speech—which I found entertaining—her research and insight are outstanding: simply put, her writing is wonderful to read. But that is where the similarities between her two novels end.
I loved Unbroken and I hated it. Credit the author. The amazing story of Olympic distance runner (yes, Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics) and World War II bombardier Louie Zamporini’s survival after being shot down, adrift for nearly two months over 2,000 miles of the Pacific then captured by the Japanese, is a horribly ugly story, beautifully told.
I am not one to get depressed when reading history but I found it impossible to page through Hillenbrand’s account of Zamporini’s ordeal and wonder why he, or anyone, might want to go on living given his daily cost in pain, suffering and humiliation at the hands of his captors.
Unbroken, is a sometimes shockingly graphic account of not only the survival of one of history’s most durable men, but also, like all good chronicling, a fascinating peek at the period in which he lived; the age of America’s greatest generation.
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