I received this book from The Next Best Book Club in exchange for an honest review.
“Wild rubber trees don’t grow in groves; they are spread throughout forests thick with vegetation and fraught with danger. Nor can trees be tapped throughout the year.
Still, people rushed to the jungle to make their fortune in rubber,” (Schweighardt 1).
After their mother’s psychic gives her the message that her departed husband wants his sons to go on an adventure, Jack and Baxter Hopper jump at the chance. They aren’t one for psychics but they’ll take any excuse they can to leave their jobs in Hoboken, New Jersey and travel to the South American rainforest where they hope to make their fortune tapping rubber trees. But their adventure takes a sharp turn once they arrive in South America and begin to experience not only the extreme hunger, floods, and deadly wildlife that lurk outside their tent but the psychological challenges they have no way of preparing for.
Before reading this novel I had never known or even heard of the history of rubber tapping in South America, so from the start Schweighardt’s Before We Died was a much welcomed read for introducing me to this history I was unaware of as well as focusing on a topic that I’ve never seen covered in historical fiction. And it also happened to be a book I really enjoyed! I’ve always liked historical fiction but don’t read it often because a lot of the genre tends to romanticize the past it’s trying to inform the reader on, usually by adding romance between characters as an attempt to alleviate the bleakness that often comes with the genre. So this book gets points for not romanticizing the past, Schweighardt is not afraid to tell readers the difficulties and atrocities that occurred during the rubber tapping in South America, and while disturbing and depressing at times it’s a necessary reminder of how horrifying these events actually were and to remind reader’s that the past was not always pretty.
I also really enjoyed the characters in the book. We follow the perspective of Jack Hopper, younger brother of Baxter. Jack’s a fun protagonist to read from, his voice somehow bringing humour and hope through the struggles that the characters face in the rainforest. His love and respect for his brother is evident, as is his annoyance with him and the relationship between the two just seemed so real and familial, Schweighardt did a marvelous job developing them. Through Jack we get to know his mother, still mourning the death of Jack and Baxter’s father, and Baxter’s girlfriend Nora who Jack secretly pines after and we get to know his mother and Nora despite the fact that reader’s only get a brief glimpse of them at the beginning of the novel. I especially adored Nora and wanted to see more of her so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that she returns in the second book!
It’s obvious that Schweighhardt cares deeply about this topic, the book is well-researched and the descriptions and details of the rainforest puts reader’s right there with Jack and Baxter. Before We Died is an adventure of a book and I can’t wait to return to these characters in the next two books of the series!
Publication: September 15th 2018
Publisher: Five Directions Press
Pages: 260 pages (PDF)
Source: The Next Best Book Club (Thanks Lori!)
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
“In 1908 two Irish American brothers leave their jobs on the docks of Hoboken, NJ to make their fortune tapping rubber trees in the South American rainforest. They expect to encounter floods, snakes, malaria, extreme hunger and unfriendly competitors, but nothing prepares them for the psychological hurdles that will befall them. Before We Died, the first in a three-book “rivers” series, is a literary adventure novel set against the background of the South American rubber boom, a fascinating but little known historical moment.”