October 5, 2012

September - Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

What a great meeting we had in September! A huge thank you to Cheryl for not only suggesting "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand (the story of Olympian Louis Zamperini's experiences during World War II) but also for coming up with the idea to invite guests. Thanks to Jill's mom and Lisa's parents for joining us and to Robyn for hosting us.

All of us enjoyed the book and Hillenbrand's writing style. Lisa's dad did wonder if some of the details had been embellished; it does seem that it would be difficult to recall things such as what was eaten on the 31st day of being adrift on the ocean. It was also brought up that the book lacked some introspection (we rarely got a chance to see into Louie's mind) but all felt that the book had enough going for it that it succeeded even without this.

We spent a lot of time talking about man's capacity for cruelty as well as man's capacity for survival and for forgiveness. Hillenbrand gives a good explanation of why the Japanese seemed to be particularly cruel to their prisoners. Even so, it seemed to us that alone could not explain the extreme cruelty some of the guards displayed. While Zamperini was eventually able to forgive his captors, we agreed that we can't imagine being able to do that. Lisa said that even as she was reading about it, she remained angry for Louie and gained an understanding of her dad's reluctance to buy Japanese cars for decades after the war. Turns out he was not the only father who felt that way.

The failure of the military and the medical profession to deal with the mental aftermath of the war was another topic of discussion that really got us going. The fact that World War II followed so closely on the heels of World War I could have had an impact in that there was no time to really concentrate on what might have been learned from that war. On the other hand, it seemed to us that having so recently had to deal with men suffering in the same way, doctors should have learned something. Then again, we still don't seem to do a very good job helping returning soldiers deal with the mental aspect of what they've seen and done.

With guests and a list of questions, we definitely did a better job of staying on task, although we made plenty of time to talk about how the war affected our own families. Jill's mom had recently listened to a Vietnam vet who has written a book talk about his experiences. She was surprised about his ability to laugh and tell jokes about the things they had done. It was interesting to compare the two wars and the difference in the way people treated returning soldiers.

We had such great fun having guest with us - we'll definitely be looking for a book for next year to span the generations! Thanks to Lisa's dad for using his computer magic to give us a picture that includes all of us!