A personal reflection on “Unbroken”

Sarabeth Kalajian, Director of the Sarasota County Library System, shares the discussion between her and her nephew about Unbroken.

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Reading Unbroken

A reminder of the power of a good book; and an unanticipated surprise.

 I believe that reading a book and talking about it adds a rich dimension to the solitary reading experience.   I am an enthusiast of the One Book/One Community program that began with the question – “what if everyone in the community read the same book?” 

 The staff of the Sarasota County Library System has explored that “what if” for a number of years, by inviting folks from throughout the County to read and come together, to discuss impressions and ideas.  Community organizations promote One Book and support the selection process as well as the program opportunities.

The current One Book selection is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.  Lieutenant Louis Zamperini’s war-time survival experience, combined with Hillenbrand’s unique writing style and devotion to primary source research, produce a riveting story.

My 15-year old nephew and I talked about the book.  That discussion led to the discovery of a more personal connection to Unbroken and a reminder of the power of a good “read” to open new avenues of understanding. 

My nephew asked questions about his grandfather, who he doesn’t remember very well.  He knew that my father served during World War II – first as part of a ground crew preparing planes for combat, and then as a flight engineer, monitoring a plane’s performance during a run.  He also knew that the same engineers who flew missions often began working on the planes just moments after landing.

There is a great deal that I will never know about what my dad experienced while he was in the Army Air Corps.  Like many veterans he did not talk about the war.  His reticence to describe that time in his life was consistent with his unassuming manner.  When he did talk, it was to express his admiration for those with whom he served.

Thinking of it now, I wonder if my dad was simply reluctant to put into words the frightening reality that flight crews faced, each time they climbed aboard the plane and the propellers began spinning. 

My nephew and I discussed the descriptive passages in Unbroken.  The image of the cramped interior spaces of the planes.  We wondered what it must have been like for each crew member during the mission; from take-off, to the moment they spotted the base runway that signaled safety.

My nephew explained to me that pilots were testing planes during combat; planes that were advancing technologically at an alarming pace.  My nephew is a voracious consumer of facts.  He reads extensively about World War II planes, including those designed and developed by countries other than the United States.  He knows which ones were especially dangerous; those called “flying death-traps”.  He learned even more facts from reading Unbroken.   He also learned about courage, valor and honor.

My nephew and continue to talk about the book, about his grandfather’s medals, combat planes and more.  Some things I had never thought about before.

I shared with my nephew that at his grandfather’s funeral service a neighbor spoke about how much he relied on him, as did countless people in my small home-town.   The neighbor, easily one-third my dad’s age, said – “Sam knew how to do stuff.  Oh, and if you ever needed someone to climb up on your leaky roof with you in a rainstorm, he was the one to call.”  My nephew and I smiled about that.  No one would have dared suggest to my octogenarian parent that he had no business climbing a ladder.

I am glad that my nephew knows more about his grandfather; that his memories and mine are enriched because we read a book and talked about it.   

Indeed, my dad knew how to do stuff.   He was a generous neighbor.  He was a courageous World War II flight engineer.  And every day he was my hero.      

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If you have a story about how this year’s One Book or any other book has influenced your life, please send it to me at skalajian@scgov.net or post it as a comment here.

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