Review of Joan Schweighardt's "Before We Died"
Before We Died (Rivers, Book 1)
Five Directions Press, 2018
ISBN: 9781947044166 (pbk)
ISBN: 9781947044173 (ebook)
“Bax grit his teeth and arched his back but the men on either side of him grabbed him and held him still. The chief dug deeply. I could see the river of fluids—pus and blood, and maybe a surviving maggot or two--” (112).
An waveringly real and achingly heartwarming tale about two brothers caught in a web of deception.
Schweighardt’s novel Before We Died is an exciting tale about two young Irish American brothers who go to South America to make money to help support their mother. The oldest will soon marry his sweetheart. The time is around 1908 when rubber trees provided the world with its hunger for tires, hoses, and shoe soles. The problem lies with the intention to harm others through deception and lies for personal gain. Like many others told they could make a fair wage through hard work, the two brothers, Jack and Baxter, are lured to the rain forest to harvest rubber and soon find themselves in debt. They’re not sure they’ll ever see home again and not only because of scam. The rubber tappers more often die from starvation, yellow fever, or from malaria.
Schweighardt’s strategy elevates the work from ordinary to sobering when she reminds readers about humankind’s ability for evil, humor, and profound love—the kind one brother gives to another. She weaves a story about the insatiable ability some people have to allow abuse, suffering, and death of others in order to obtain power and riches. Though Jack and Baxter argue, curse, and consistently threaten one another, they’re determined to keep the other safe, even at a momentous cost. Readers will be mesmerized and pull for the brothers, laugh at their playful antics, worry for them, and understand when they roll around on the ground fighting.
The storytelling provides an exciting journey that at the same time leaves readers wondering how some people justify what they do to others.
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