Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown
The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers from the American West, the boys took on and defeated successive echelons of privilege and power. They vanquished the sons of bankers and senators rowing for elite eastern universities. They defeated the sons of British aristocrats rowing for Oxford and Cambridge. And finally, in an extraordinary race in Berlin they stunned the Aryan sons of the Nazi state as they rowed for gold in front of Adolf Hitler.
Against the grim backdrop of the Great Depression, they reaffirmed the American notion that merit, in the end, outweighs birthright. They reminded the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together. And they provided hope that in the titanic struggle that lay just ahead, the ruthless might of the Nazis would not prevail over American grit, determination, and optimism.
And even as it chronicles the boys’ collective achievement, The Boys in the Boat is also the heart warming story of one young man in particular. Cast aside by his family at an early age, abandoned and left to fend for himself, Joe Rantz rows not just for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard, to dare again to trust in others, and to find his way back to a place he can call home.
Image and summary from the author's website, http://www.danieljamesbrown.com/
My Review: The Boys in the Boat is the story of the University of Washington rowing team and their quest towards gold at the Olympic games in 1936. Yet it is so much more than this. The story begins in the early 1930's, a time when the United States was suffering through the Great Depression. Times were hard and this story recounts the perseverance these boys' possessed,not only in terms of rowing but in also earning enough money to make it through another year of college year after year. The story paints a vivid picture of life in these times. Earning a dollar often required backbreaking work,building roads in the heat or blasting massive tree stumps or scaling mountains. The story also takes into account the tough living conditions and what family life looked like. It demonstrated the importance of the sport of rowing for both the teams and the spectators alike.
More than anyone this story belongs to Joe Rantz, one of the nine on the winning rowing team. The book documents his childhood struggles. It shows his great work ethic and will. It journeys through his courting of Judy and his very personal family issues. The story does not shy away from Joe's bouts of insecurity, making his character all the more likable and easy to relate to. Viewing the story through Joe's eyes gives it such a personal touch and makes it all the more heartfelt.
Intermingles with the story of rowing are details of Germany at this time when Hitler is coming into power and the country began to change. Lives of both minor and major players in the upcoming war are touched upon. Details of the film star Leni Riefenstahl, who filmed the actual races and captured additional unforgettable footage of Nazi Germany during this time, are mixed in. Although this tidbits are not added in a seamless fashion they do add a greater depth to the tale.
Time and time again while reading this I found myself amazed a Brown's incredible writing style. Who thought that a book where the ending is well known from the beginning could be so suspenseful. Yet I found myself at the edge of my seat and holding my breath each time the boys raced, sure that it wouldn't go as planned. This is an amazing story, one that will leave any reader with the utmost admiration for these boys and the others who played a part in their success. You don't want to miss this one.
My Rating: 5 Stars
To Sum It Up: Narrative nonfiction at it's finest. Read it, You won't regret a minute of the time you spend within these pages.