4 out of 4 stars
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A little over a hundred years ago, it was discovered that latex from rubber trees could be processed into a substance with a wide range of lucrative uses. This led to the first rubber boom between 1879 and 1912.
In 1908, Clementine, an old Italian hag, who passes herself as a fortune teller tells Mrs. Hopper that it is her late husband’s wish that their two boys (Jack and Baxter Hopper) get away from the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey and find themselves an adventure to escape their collective misery. Although skeptical, with encouragement from their mother, Jack and Bax decide to seek adventure in South America with hopes and dreams of making a fortune rubber tapping. They are under no illusions of the hardships they would face in the jungle, such as floods, snakes, malaria, extreme hunger, and unfriendly competitors. However, nothing could have prepared them for what they were to encounter and the psychological warfare that would ensue.
Before We Died by Joan Schweighardt is a literary adventure novel that takes readers on an unforgettable expedition. Set in South America, during the rubber boom, the narrative gives readers a glimpse of some of the horrible realities that came with the growing demand for rubber. It is the first book in the Rivers trilogy, and I am eager for the release of the next in the series because Before We Died was superb!
I love the historical aspect of this novel. Although heartbreaking, it inspired me to research a little more on the topic. The author did a great job in weaving historical bits and geographical locations into her fictionalized account, giving it an authentic and extremely believable feel. I also love the tragicomedy aspect of the novel, as it lightens the overall mood and induces several laugh-out-loud moments; this was a big part of the novel as I found myself bursting into laughter even as I ebbed toward the last pages.
The first-person narrator is an Irish American, and so his descriptions and dialogues reflected his origins naturally. The use of Irish words, phrases, and slang enhanced the writing and helped set the atmosphere. Portuguese was also used, and this added a real sense of place when the characters traveled to Portuguese-speaking locations; wherever the meanings were vague or implicit, the author offered a quick translation. I have to mention, however, that the narrative contains curse words and violence.
There were adequate descriptions of sceneries throughout the characters’ voyages; this made it feel like I was with them on their travels and adventures. The two brothers were opposites, but their personalities were likable, and their differences only enhanced the interesting dynamic between them. The author also used flashbacks to add depth to her characters; it was easy to connect with them and share their different emotions.
Overall, Before We Died is a well-written and fascinating read. The setting, characters, and plot worked well to birth a brilliant narrative. I am happy to recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction and adventure novels. It is my pleasure to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
Before We Died
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