Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"But, Son, the thing is, Thula wants you to stay here. "

Joe gets home one evening from school to find the rest of the family packed up in the car.
"What's up, Pop? Where are we going?" Joe murmured.
Harry looked down at the boards planking the porch, then raised his eyes and gazed off into the dark, wet woods over Joe's shoulder.
"We can't make it here, Joe.  There's nothing else for it.  Thula won't stay, at any rate.  She's insisting."
"Where are we going to go?"
Harry turned to meet Joe's eyes.
"I'm not sure.  Seattle, for now, then California maybe.  But, Son, the thing is, Thula wants you to stay here.  I would stay with you, but I can't.  The little kids are going to need a father more than you are.  You're pretty much all grown up now anyway."
 Joe was ten at the time.  It was 1924 in timber country near Seattle.  Joe's life wasn't easy.

The Boys in the Boat slips back and forth between Joe's time on the University of
Washington crew team as they push themselves to the limit in hopes of making it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and his challenging life growing up as a kid whose mother dies and whose step-mother really can't deal with him.  And then, from the passage above, how he scrambles to survive as best he can on his own.

Along the way we get a good deal of Northwest history - the 1920s and 30s.  We visit downtown Seattle's Hooverville.  Joe helps  build the Grand Coolie Dam, and we get intimate with the anatomy of spruce.  A second track, though much shorter,  carries us through the planning of the 1936 Olympics, particularly the role of film maker Leni Riefenstahl.  Along these two tracks are two stories headed for a collision at the end of the book.  We know, going in, what's going to happen.  It's the telling of the story that keeps the pages turning.

There's a good reason this book is selling well.  Even though author Daniel James Brown covers the seamier sides of things, this really is a fairy tale where Cinderella is going to marry the prince in the end.

Here's the clip of the final rowing event at the 1936 Olympics with Joe in the winning skull, from Riefenstahl's movie glorifying Nazi Germain and, the way Brown writes, the first really spectacular media event Olympics. It makes much more sense after you've read the book.

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