Posts Tagged With: Inspiration

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

unbrokenThis biography stands head and shoulders above the countless others published for our edification. Not only did author Laura Hillenbrand research the details of the story meticulously, but she also wrote about deep themes such as human dignity, man’s cruelty to man, the will to live, and the type of love that sustains. In my opinion, Hillenbrand is one of the best contemporary writers of narrative history, and it is well worth the time it takes to read all 406 pages of this true story.

The facts horrify and defy belief and are definitely not for the faint-hearted. Adults and older teens would be the best candidates to survive the ordeal of reading the life story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a hellion who only “settled down” when he began to run, thanks to the guidance of his older brother, Pete. World War II interrupted his promising running career, although he ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was congratulated personally by Adolf Hitler.unbroken3

After joining the Army Air Corps, Louie successfully trained and fulfilled missions as a bombardier in the Pacific Theatre. When his B-24, the Green Hornet, crashed in the Pacific on May 27, 1943 only three men survived.  The terror of shark attack led many airmen to crash their disabled planes outright versus “ditch” them in the Pacific Ocean. During days the survivors of the Green Hornet waited for rescue, sharks were an ever-present danger, swimming around continuously, rubbing their backs under the deteriorating rubber rafts, and at times, attacking with ferocity over the sides.

During these endless days of suffering in the life rafts, Louie, Phil and Mac drew from the experience of World War I ace pilot Eddie Rickenbacker whose story of twenty-four days adrift was familiar to the soldiers. “Exposure, dehydration, stress, and hunger had quickly driven many of Rickenbacker’s party insane, a common fate for raft-bound men. Louie was more concerned about sanity than he was about sustenance… Louie was determined that no matter what happened to their bodies, their minds would stay under their control.” (p. 152)

Publicity stills photography on the set of NBC Universal's movie 'Unbroken'

The well-being of the three survivors depended also on their hopefulness: “Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perceptions of it appeared to be shaping their fates. Louie and Phil’s hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their spiritual and emotional vigor. Mac’s resignation seemed to paralyze him, and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped. Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most. Louie and Phil’s optimism, and Mac’s hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling.” (p. 155)

Shockingly, Louie’s plight worsened after his “rescue” from the sea by the Japanese navy. In the years that follow he was passed through a series of horrific prisoner of war camps in Japan. The shame of imprisonment that was indoctrinated in the Japanese military may be one of the reasons for the savage treatment of prisoners in the Japanese camps. Sadistic and continual torture served to rob men of their dignity so essential to human life.

Persevering to the end of the story offers the reader a final relief and a surprise – a revelation of how to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder through spiritual awakening and forgiving one’s tormentors.

Unbroken is the culmination of seven years of research, seventy-five interviews with Louie who, according to Ms. Hillenbrand, had a prodigious memory. Louis himself provided the author with his journals, original newspaper clippings, memorabilia, and private photos. Due to the author’s battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, all the interviews were conducted by phone. When Louie learned of Ms. Hillenbrand’s courageous battle with the disease he sent her his Purple Heart medal, claiming that her suffering was greater than his. Louie and Laura did finally meet in 2012 just a few years before Louie’s death at age 97. Physically active and cheerful until the end of his life, Louie is no longer available to tell his story. This lends great importance to the narrative finely crafted by Ms. Hillenbrand.

Although Unbroken chronicles the life of one man, many others who served in WWII in the Pacific Theatre are honored in the storytelling.   Japanese POW “Hap” (Raymond) Halloran is one such man who Laura Hillenbrand praised in the book’s acknowledgements: “Very few human beings have seen humanity’s dark side as Hap has, and yet he is ever buoyant, ever forgiving. Hap’s resilient heart is my inspiration.”

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In my opinion we need this story of a flawed hero who survived terror and torture and received his life back in the end. As goodreads reviewer and fellow veteran Jason commented: “In 10-15 years America will lose all its primary sources from WWII. You will have no reference, no great-grampa to reveal that epoch to you in lost military jargon and GI colloquialism. Great-grampa, the leatherneck, that, when you were a punk adolescent, sat alone in the warm sunroom with paper-thin skin on the backs of his hands, spots of lentigo, and steaming black coffee in winter. Gut-rot coffee, the way he learned to drink it back then, in a hole, or at predawn prep for takeoff. And so, I’m afraid that younger generations will lose the silken threads that link living history. I’m afraid that kids who think nothing unusual of presidents with no military experience will view WWII simply as another knuckle in history—something to study, fodder for a paper—but no less important than history that piles up each year and must be studied in turn.” (For more on this review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/451396288?book_show_action=true&page=1

More information about the author and the Unbroken story can be found on the author’s official website: http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com. The major motion picture, Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, is scheduled for release on Christmas Day 2014.

I wrote a post a while back about another good Japanese POW true story: https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/to-end-all-wars-a-japanese-pow-tells-his-story/

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Beyond the Summerland – Worthwhile Fantasy

I love book series. Getting attached to the characters and the world depicted in a set of novels is one of life’s signature pleasures. Although finding a good author to follow is wonderful, discovering a great series is even more of a treasure. The Binding of the Blade consists of five books and delivers a complex story set in a vivid fantasy world. Not only that, but all five novels have already been published, so they can all be read with hardly a breath or potty break. This obsessive reading is certainly not required (or recommended), but to have the option is bliss. I read all the novels of the series one after the other: Beyond the Summerland, Bringer of Storms, Shadow in the Deep, Father of Dragons, and All My Holy Mountain.

A lively imagination is a gift and I have it in abundance. When I am reading, I am “in” the story, picturing details of each character’s hair, face, clothing. The landscape unrolls before my mind like a technicolor carpet. Movies captivate me too, but I don’t need them to do my imagining, and even find them distracting sometimes once I have already mentally created the story.

This fantasy series resides in my library’s youth adult fiction section, but as an adult, I enjoyed it thoroughly with its well-crafted world and characters. Undeniably, J.R.R. Tolkien set the bar so high that no one touch him, but that doesn’t mean authors shouldn’t try. The result is a wealth of wonderful fantasy stories that bring us variety. And to be honest, I can’t get enough of dragons, swords, evil overlords, and frightening forests. I don’t mind similar themes because the battle between good and evil underlies everything, so why not vicariously join another fight in a unique world? I will leave the plot of this particular series a mystery and allow readers to discover it for themselves. I will say that I enjoyed a series that has a benevolent and personal source of spiritual power.

Delighted, I discovered L.B. Graham avidly pursues his storytelling. The Darker Road, book 1 in the Wandering series will be released in July 2013. I first “found” Graham through my Wheaton College alumni magazine article. The fact that he is a fellow alum may have biased me a bit in the author’s favor, but that’s acceptable, isn’t it? We often have reasons for pre-judging authors. More information can be found on the author’s website, lbgraham.com. His website bio informs us that he “was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1971 and loved school so much that he never left, transitioning seamlessly between life as a student and life as a teacher. He and his family now live in St. Louis. They would like one day to have a house by the sea, which he wants to call “The Grey Havens.” He and his wife have two children. Both love books, which pleases him immensely.”
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Categories: Fantasy, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis


The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia, published in 1954, tells the tale of Shasta, a Narnian boy raised in the country of Calormen by an illiterate fisherman who uses him like a slave and keeps his true identity from him. Shasta and Bree the Talking Horse, also a captive of the Calormenes, escape north to freedom in Narnia.

This particular “chronicle” seems to be less known, due in part to the fact that no modern movie has promoted it, unlike “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, “Prince Caspian”, and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. The powerful themes of escape, providence, and identity make it my favorite. Aslan, the great lion, appears throughout the story, but in many different guises; all with the same purpose, however, of directing and protecting the main characters. Sometimes he physically guards them, other times he protects them from their own folly.

Chronologically, this story takes place while the four Pevensie children are ruling: “Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and two sisters were Kings and Queens under him”(p.3). They have grown up enough that Queen Susan is being courted by the ruthless Calormen prince, Rabadash, but they are still young and carefree in their roles as monarchs: “Instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed.” (p. 58) The Narnian monarchs visit the Caloremene capital so that Queen Susan can meet her suitor in his own land and find themselves embroiled in political intrigue.

In my edition of the book, a colorful map, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, reminds us that the world of Narnia has surrounding countries, as well as the Great Eastern Ocean with its numerous islands. The Horse and His Boy is set in the land south of Narnia, across a great desert. The Tisroc, a cruel tyrant rules here and desires to gobble up Narnia through treachery if he can, and by force if his attempt at trickery fails.

Into this political intrigue enters Shasta who has grown up with beatings and hard labor and doesn’t realize he is of northern blood. He forms an alliance with Bree, a Talking Horse who was sold into slavery as a foal. During their daring escape attempt, the pair joins forces with another Narnian horse, the humble mare Hwin, and a privileged Calormene tarkeena named Aravis who is fleeing a forced marriage with a man “at least sixty years old with a hump on his back and a face like an ape”. (p.37).

The Narnian horses yearn fiercely for their free homeland : “The happy land of Narnia — Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rives, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs. Oh the sweet air of Narnia! An hour’s life there is better than a thousand years in Calormen.” (p. 11). Even though Shasta has no memory of his birth in Narnia, his heart is drawn to it : “‘Oh hurrah!’ said Shasta, “Then we’ll go north. I’ve been longing to go to the North all my life.’” (p. 14)

In a humorous and ironic case of mistaken identity, Shasta falls in with the Narnian monarchs in the capital city of Tashbaan and unwittingly meets his twin. This story resonates for me as much now as it did in my youth when my babysitter, Sandi Beth Sandford, read it to us aloud. How that is possible is the genius of C.S. Lewis’ storytelling and his depth of insight into seeking where we belong and who we really are.

The sixth Chronicle of Narnia, The Silver Chair, also takes place in the land of Narnia, but in a northern country ruled by giants during the time when Caspian is king and Eustace Scrubb returns to Narnia to rescue Caspian’s son and heir.
The chronological order of the Narnia books: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.  Thanks to my friend, Lynn – who insisted that her first reading of the Chronicles must be in the order the author wrote them, here is a “publication list”:  Lion, Prince, Voyage, Silver, Horse, Magician’s, Last.

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Books for Girls: Timeless Virtues

One of my personal tests to determine whether a book heroine is “timeless” is if you, as a reader, remember her name, not just what she did.

For some of our most beloved female protagonists we even know the last name: Sara Crewe, Kit Tyler, Christy Huddleston, Jo March,  Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, Lucy Pevensie. Mary Lennox, Maria Merryweather, Fern Arable and Charlotte the Spider.  I feel as if I know these characters. 

As my daughter Rachel says, “They are like real people that I have in my cell phone contact list.  I feel as if I could call them up to ask them for advice”.

Fiery-tempered, imaginative Anne  (“with an e”) of Anne of Green Gables finds what her hearts longs for -belonging in her adopted family and community.  She wins the life-long friendship of Diana, whom she calls her “bosom friend”.  We watch Anne grow up and see her find her unique beauty, her intelligence, and her place in the world.  If Anne can do it, so can I.

Mary Lennox, the main character in The Secret Garden, is drawn by a mixture of compassion and curiosity to discover the sufferer secreted away deep inside the manor house: “The door of her room was ajar and the sound came down the corridor, a far-off faint sound of fretful crying… She felt as is she must find out what it was… The corridor looked very long and dark, but she was too excited to mind that.  So she went on with her dim light, almost feeling her way, her heart beating so loud that she fancied she could hear it.”  This young girl becomes the agent of restoration for a sick child and an entire household; not just a garden.  How about us? Aren’t we restorers too?

Christy Huddleston (Christy by Catherine Marshall) exhibits kindness, mixed with determined bravery as she leaves behind her citified, comfortable life to teach destitute children in the Appalachian Mountains.  What a culture shock she faces, but Christy rises to the challenge and grows into a mature young woman who changes Cutter Gap.  I am destined to change the world like Christy.

Hannah, my youngest child, loves Lucy Pevensie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because Lucy is the youngest sibling and yet sees with eyes of faith and doesn’t doubt.  In later adventures, Lucy sees Aslan when no one else can.

We may have missed certain books during our growing up years, or perhaps read them with only half our attention. It’s not too late; we can go back and scoop them up again.  If we didn’t get enough faith, hope, kindness, purity, courage, and destiny in our youth, it is all still waiting for us in these tales of inspiring fictional characters. Sharing these nourishing books with our daughters and granddaughters makes them come alive again for us.

I have never read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin or Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.  My 13-year-old friend, Emma, tells me Heidi by Johanna Spyri is a must-read also. So I have some catching up to do! Which girl heroines live in your heart? Drop me a comment and let me know.

My Top Ten in alphabetical order:

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (wonderful illustrator – Garth Williams)

Christy by Catherine Marshall

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (best illustrator – Tasha Tudor)

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (best illustrator Tasha Tudor)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Categories: Classics, Girl Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Books for Boys: Stories for the Wild Hearts

Explore, build, conquer – you don’t have to tell a boy to do those things for the simple reason that it is his purpose.  But it’s going to take risk, and danger, and there’s the catch.  Are we willing to live with the level of risk that God invites us to?”

John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, 2001:Thomas Nelson Publishers

Good books can help build the man.  The young boy needs all the help he can get to rise up to the heights of his unique calling.  Through stories that flesh out endurance, sacrifice, and fighting for the right, he can attain his destiny.  A well-rounded male protagonist demonstrates to the young reader that success must be hard-won and involves taking risks and will inspire him to believe he can make a difference.

Good stories well-told can breathe on the embers that lie dormant in all boys and men to activate that their strength and power is rise up and do big things for their families and the good of others.

These great “boy books” offer plots and settings that show the resolution of a boy’s inner conflicts: “Do you think I can do this?”  “Am I any good?”  “Am I heroic?” Our world needs men who use their strength for the protection of others —  men who overcome and walk out their bigger purpose.

The titles listed here represent a few stories that showcase a male character facing adventure, danger, and risk. My list is eclectic and loosely organized into recommended age categories.  Keep in mind that often a good book will be a wonderful reading experiences for many age groups.

Pre-Teen:

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop – William is off on a quest into a fantasy world

Honus & Me by Dan Gutman – one of 5 “Baseball Card Adventures” – a boy goes back in time to meet his sports hero.

The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds – a young boy must defend his family against Indian attack

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh – a boy must find out for himself if there are bears on the mountain

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman – a spoiled prince and a commoner team up for adventures

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – a silversmith apprentice in Revolutionary Era Boston finds his courage

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – a runaway survives in New York’s Catskill Mountains

Mid-Teen:

The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead – wonderful re-telling of King Arthur and Merlin

Call Me Francis Tucket by Brian Paulsen – a 14 year old faces trials in 1800’s American West

Hatchet by Brian Paulsen – a teenager must survive alone in the Canadian wilderness

Little Britches by Ralph Moody – a heart-warming saga of pioneer life in Montana in the 1800s

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare – a young boy faces dangers in Palestine at the time of Christ

Late Teen:

To End All Wars by Ernest Gordon – a WWI Japanese prisoner of war overcomes torture and deprivation

God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew – a Dutch missionary smuggles Bibles behind the Iron Curtain

Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester – a British naval midshipman endures hardships during the Napoleonic War

Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour – an escaped American soldier evades captures in Soviet Siberia

Also: Treasure Island, Kidnapped, or The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Read Aloud | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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