Daniel James Brown learned about Joe's rowing career directly from him and other family members and it sure-as-heck shows in the plot. Brown's intimate details on Joe's feelings make it read like a narration, brimming with drama and suspense. The story is rounded out with historical details on the Depression and the war as German Nazi's rose to power. The details of foliage, trees, and animals from the Northwest create a strong setting and it is easy to get lost in the story as it unfolds.
The details of rowing do not bog down the plot as it is balanced by the emotional, human story of Joe Rantz's strange upbringing. Brown juggles the story elements well and uses tension in competition, The Depression, and Nazi Germany to ratchet the drama up several notches. The cheating that was done to try to win the race does paint the Germans as one-dimensional villains, but Brown also shows Germany's attempt to be equal with other world powers. The Ministry of Propaganda was a ruthless way to push a glorified image of Germany that hid its dark intolerant and superior side.
This tale reminded me of "Unbroken," because it is a story of triumph and survival in difficult times. Brown's research is impressive as he tackles the intricacies of rowing along with giving a historical overview of the tough times facing people in the 1930s. He dramatizes the slumps the rowers go through during different seasons and builds to an exciting climax. My husband and I just moved to Seattle and are going to trek to the University of Washington's Conibear Shellhouse to see the "Husky Clipper" rowboat that was used in the 1936 games. I can't wait. Don't miss this one.