Cynthia Zamperini: Her Life with Louis & Finding Faith

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

Who is Cynthia Zamperini? How did she help Louis change his life for the better?

Cynthia Zamperini, formerly Applewhite, was the wife of Louis Zamperini. Cynthia Zamperini met Louis when he returned from the war. Cynthia Zamperini saw the effects firsthand of Louis’s PTSD, and together, they used their faith to help him heal.

Cynthia Zamperini: Meeting Louis and Marriage

One spring night in Miami Beach, as Louis drank at the bar, a beautiful blonde entered and stole his heart. He would later tell his sister that after seeing her, he knew she would be his wife. Her name was Cynthia Applewhite, and she was the 20-year-old daughter of a wealthy, upscale family. 

Cynthia told Louis about seeing the newsreel about his NCAA championship race in 1938, when the other racers had spiked his legs. She’d never forgotten that story. She was smitten, and within two weeks, she and Louis were engaged. 

Toward the end of 1946, Cynthia Zamperini would learn just how deep Louis’s pain ran. The couple was having dinner in Hollywood with Phil, Fred Garrett, and their wives. It was the first time Louis and Phil had seen each other since Phil’s departure from Ofuna in 1944. 

The evening was off to a great start. Everyone was in joyful moods, and the horrors of the men’s pasts seemed far away. But when the dinners came, Fred took one look at the neat pile of white rice on his plate and lost it. He screamed wildly until the dish was taken away, and although Louis was able to calm him down, it was clear that their pasts were never out of reach.

Life moved forward for Louis and Cynthia Zamperini, but the strain of being a good husband weighed on his shoulders. He was 30 years old with no job, no interest in finding one, and living in a friend’s mother’s home. Louis made several small investments with the money he did have and soon earned enough to rent a small apartment in Los Angeles, but the income was always temporary.

In spring 1948, Cynthia announced she was pregnant. The news made Louis elated, but it also put more pressure on him to succeed, which made him more anxious. Toward the end of the pregnancy, Louis experienced a night terror in which the Bird was beating him with the buckle. He lunged for the Bird and began strangling him. A second later, Louis looked down and realized he was strangling his pregnant wife

Louis knew he was floundering, but not even the birth of his daughter, Cissy, could bring him out of the darkness. And after Cynthia came home and found him shaking the baby, she prepared to file for divorce. 


In late 1949, Billy Graham, a young unknown man at the time, came to Los Angeles and performed a miracle. He set up what would become a massive revival residency. In just a month, he went from having 2,000 attendants at his sermons to 10,000. Word spread around the city and made its way to Cynthia. She begged Louis to take her, but he refused, so Cynthia went by herself.

Cynthia Zamperini and Louis were living separate lives in the same apartment. She was still planning on filing for a divorce, but after she attended Graham’s sermon, she came home and told Louis the divorce was off. She’d had a religious awakening, and she wanted Louis to come next time to experience it. After much persistence, Louis finally agreed to go. 

That first night, Louis became angry when Graham asked the congregation how long it had been since they’d prayed. The words poked at a dormant memory fighting to get out, and Louis felt cornered. At the next sermon, which Cynthia again persuaded him to attend, Graham said something that changed everything: “God works miracles one after another…. God says, ‘If you suffer, I’ll give you the grace to go forward.” At those words, Louis’s mind woke up.

Cynthia Zamperini was the love of Louis’s life from the day they met. The couple underwent many trials, but were able to maintain a strong relationship. Cynthia Zamperini and Louis had two children, and were together until her death in 2001.

Cynthia Zamperini: Her Life with Louis & Finding Faith

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Unbroken summary :

  • How Louie Zamperini was on track to become an Olympic athlete until the war started
  • The unbelievable story of his capture as a prisoner of war
  • The ultimate fate of Louie and his captors

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.