Anyone interested in survival of either body or spirit should read this book! This is the story of an Olympic runner who ends up in the WWII equivalent of the air force. His plane fails and crashlands in the sea, leaving three survivors sharing two rubber rafts in the middle of the Pacific ocean.
What I loved about this book is the extraordinary resourcefulness of the protagonist, Louis–even more striking because we’re talking about a real guy. From the minute he survives the wreck, he is always thinking about how to survive a little bit longer, finding advantages in their meager supplies and developing systems to enable him and his companions to live through another day in these extreme circumstances. I don’t want to detail all of it here: really, you should read the book.
Hillenbrand does a marvelous job of segueing between the story she’s telling and the historical background information you need in order to both understand the story and place it in context. Historical novelists and fantasy writers take note! Too much backstory is an easy way to kill the momentum of a book. The advice is to include the backstory only–and exactly–when the reader wants to know.
So Hillenbrand can take you from the scene in the air–a riveting bombing raid over Japanese territory–to the story behind the airplanes they fly, what makes them work, and what makes them fail. How does she do this? Because the reader now needs to know. The events of the story make the historical details compelling. Those details will add up to significant moments in the lives of characters she has already gotten us to care about. I may need to read this one again to absorb the lessons she can teach.