This book seems to be pretty interesting so far. Although the beginning was kind of rough for me, I guess I caught up with the face moving pace of the novel pretty quickly. Also, I wanted to join the Lake Oswego Rowing Community in the beginning of the year, so I learned a lot about this vigorous sport through my reading. That said, Brown does a great job of portraying life during the Great Depression.
It was quite disheartening actually, to see time after time, the misery that the characters in the novel have to face, especially Joe. Everything from Joe losing his mother and getting abandoned, to Joyce losing her house and living under her oppressive parents, it is pretty clear that the main characters’ lives were miserable. For example, when Harry and Thula left Joe, “The lightbulbs hanging from the raters flickered on for a moment. Then they flickered off and stayed off” (Brown 58). Light symbolizes hope, so the fact that the lightbulb stayed off means that basically, there is no hope in living on. That dampens the mood quite a bit in the novel, although it was not the first time something bad happened to him. Additionally, the recurring image of a burned down house symbolizes the destruction of family and homes, which effectively illustrates how hard life was back then.
On a brighter note, there are many hints of hope in the novel though. On the epigraph of page 25, the narrator compares the giant trees of a forest to people and describes, “Looking at the annular rings of the wood, you can tell what seasons they have been through. In some drought years they almost perished, as growth is barely perceptible. In others, the growth was far greater”. Even though the trees experienced some harsh seasons, they managed to survive and still had hope in living. Furthering that, is the victorious race between Washington University and California. From the blue skies, to the sparkling water, to the subtitle of the novel, “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics”, it was pretty clear that Washington was going to win. I honestly did not feel any suspension while reading the part about the race. However, that event did make the story so much happier. It just shows how courage in the face of adversary really pays off.
On a side note, did anyone find it hard to follow the book at the beginning? I thought it was extremely difficult to keep track of all the characters and their names when the author jumped from one to the next in the first thirty pages or so.