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'Unbroken' Author Laura Hillenbrand Details Discovering Louis Zamperini and Inspiration Behind Best-Selling Book

( [email protected] ) Dec 29, 2014 02:47 PM EST

Unbroken Author Laura Hillenbrand
Laura Hillenbrand, author of ''Seabiscuit'' and ''Unbroken,'' stands behind Louis Zamperini and John Naber. Photo: Louis Zamperini

Laura Hillenbrand, author of "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption," the biography of Olympic track runner Louis Zamperini, recently opened up about her own struggles and how they inspired her to write the New York Times bestseller.

"Unbroken," was released in 2010, and debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times best-seller list, where it remained for nearly four years.  A movie adaptation of the book, based on a script by the Coen brothers and directed by Angelina Jolie, recently hit theaters and has received rave reviews. The story follows Zamperini's rise as a competitive Olympic runner in the 1930s, his experience in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II, his crash at sea and 47 days aboard a life raft, then his capture and torment by the Japanese. The book concludes by highlighting Zamperini's incredible faith which, following his release, enabled him to forgive his captors who had once so brutally tortured him.

In an interview with the New York Times, Hillenbrand, who suffers from a debilitating condition called chronic fatigue syndrome that keeps her largely confined to her house and sometimes to her bed, revealed that she learned about Zamperini while investigating the subject of her first book, the racehorse Seabiscuit.

According to the New York Times, Hillenbrand, 47, needed to purchase newspapers from the 1930s and have them sent to her house for her private examination. One day, she came upon a small story about a track star named Louis Zamperini while looking through the newspapers, which later inspired her to write her next book "Unbroken."

"I happened to turn over a clipping about Seabiscuit," she said. "On the other side of that page, directly the opposite side of the page, was an article on Louie Zamperini, this running phenom."

Hillenbrand had no idea what became of Zamperini in the years to come, but she jotted his name in her research notebook on Seabiscuit and promised herself, "I've got to find this guy when I'm done," the New York Times reported.

Because of the painful nature of her disease, Hillenbrand conducted her extensive research--focusing on details of WWII--from her home. She also interviewed Zamperini, who passed away in July 2014, via telephone for hundreds of hours. Although they didn't actually meet until after the book was published, the two soon became close friends.

"Somebody gave him a copy of an article I wrote for the New Yorker called "The Sudden Illness"...and he realized upon reading that article... that I understood what it was like to suffer profoundly," she explained to Fox News of how they bonded.

"One day, I got a little package from him...it was his purple heart, and he had written, 'after reading your story, I realized you need this more than I do.'"

Although Zamperini didn't live to see the film adaptation of his life, he was incredibly appreciative of the book "Unbroken."

"I remember he left this long message, and he said, 'Laura you put me through it,' " Hillenbrand said. "But he really, really loved it."

"People read his story and listen to him speak and they feel the breath of inspiration coming through them; they feel like they can get through all of their troubles," she said.

But most importantly, Hillebrand said her experience writing the book and the deep faith and friendship of Zamperini gave her a new sense of hope and courage--even in the face of debilitating illness.

"Louie has become an inspiration for a generation of people," she told Fox News.

"He is a man who survived the seemingly unsurvivable, and I think all of us can look at his life and look at the things that he got through, and then look back at our own troubles and think, 'you know, if he got through that, why can't I get through this?"'

Tags : Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken, Louis Zamperini, Unbroken book