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Laura Hillenbrand recalls Louis Zamperini

Louis Zamperini did not live to see “Unbroken” debut in Western New York movie theaters.

The Olean native died over the summer.

But Zamperini, 97 at his death, did live long enough to see the publication of Laura Hillenbrand’s book about his life.

And, as Hillenbrand told The Buffalo News in an interview published in 2012, Zamperini was very moved by the work.

Hillenbrand’s second book, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” was chosen as the October selection of The Buffalo News Book Club in 2012.

Hillenbrand told The News at that time that she had learned about Louie Zamperini while investigating the subject of her first book, the racehorse Seabiscuit.

She had seen the runner’s name in old papers from the Depression era. “The way I found Louie was through Seabiscuit,” Hillenbrand said in 2012. “When I was researching Seabiscuit, I was perusing a lot of 1930s newspapers – that’s what I like to do, read the whole newspaper.”

Hillenbrand said that she had noted Zamperini’s name in the old news coverage and decided to keep him in mind. “I resolved then that when I was done with Seabiscuit, I would try to find him,” said Hillenbrand.

Hillenbrand’s first book, “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” came out in 2001 and also became a movie. In the book, she wrote about a racehorse that beat the odds and became famous across the country.

She said that Zamperini told her how much he appreciated “Unbroken.”

“I remember he left this long message, and he said, ‘Laura you put me through it,’ ” Hillenbrand said in the interview.

“But he really, really loved it.”

“He said I had made all his prison camp friends real to him again. He said he had to stop reading every so often to remind himself the war was over.”

Hillenbrand talked to The News at that time about issues with her health that make it difficult for her at times to travel or do her research work. “When I’m not feeling well, I can’t do much,” she said.

But, the author said her extensive research into World War II for “Unbroken” taught her new things.

Hillenbrand worked on “Unbroken” for seven years. She had to learn about vintage bombers, among other things.

Hillenbrand said it is important to be passionate about your research when you are writing books.

“You’ve got to be in love with it,” Hillenbrand said. “It’s got to be something that’s going to make you happy.”

“You have to be obsessed.”


To read the full story about Laura Hillenbrand and the selection of “Unbroken” for Book Club, see the News website:

The Buffalo News Book Club selections appear the first Tuesday of each month in the Life & Arts section of the paper and online.


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