This awe-inspiring historical novel describes the true backstory of the boys from the University of Washington who succeeded in winning the Gold Medal in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. No, I didn’t just ruin the book for you – this is a known fact and is assumed from the get go. But the suspense in this book still rises with each and every qualifying event leading up to the finale, primarily because the author brings you intimately into the lives of each of the remarkable people who were a part of this drama. Brown focuses on the primary hero of this story, Joe Rantz. Joe had an extremely difficult childhood and his resilience can only be described as astounding. Through each of his loses in his life, he grew stronger and more independent, and learned to take care of himself because he had no choice. This proved to be both a strength and a weakness as he began to train with the University of Washington crew team.
What is also fascinating about this story is the various times the author relates what is going on across the Atlantic, in Berlin, during the time leading up to the Olympics there. As Hitler was strengthening his position as leader of the Third Reich, he was also bent on making Germany appear civilized and cultured and harmless in the world’s eyes by creating the perfect setting for the 1936 Olympics. For this he utilized his right hand PR man, Goebbels and his friend and movie maker, Leni Reifenstahl to stage the one of the most successful cons ever.
While there is a great deal of detail shared in the book about rowing, the quality and design of the boats, the rigors of the training and the conditions under which the boys trained, it does help the reader to develop a profound respect for anyone in the boat. I learned a great deal about the sport and the various people who are essential to the success of anyone who rows. Most dramatic, though, was the way the boys came together as a team – that their success hinged on their putting faith in each other and forging the connection that enabled them to act as a single unit. Experiencing this right along with them was a privilege that I encourage you to share.
Genuine drama and a truly beautiful story…