Before We Died
Joan Schweighardt, author
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.
Schweighardt (The Accidental Art Thief) takes a fictional look at rubber harvesting in a work that is both harrowing and unfortunately familiar. When young Irish-American brothers from Hoboken, N.J., Jack and Baxter Hopper agree to travel to the Amazon rainforest in 1908 to tap rubber for Manuel Abalo on the basis that they’ll make a profit after paying off their expenses, readers may immediately smell a rat. The brothers arrive in Brazil and are led deep into the interior by a man known only as C, along with other rubber tappers, including two friends from Pennsylvania, Leon and Ted. Once C demonstrates the tapping process, the four men are left on their own with minimal rations, intensely hard work, unrelenting heat, swarming insects, and other pressures that fray tempers and assault their health. When Leon is killed by a spider bite and Ted runs off into the jungle, Schweighardt rolls out a second trope: that of white people being rescued by indigenous people. After the local Gha-ru people save both brothers, each seeks to thwart Abalo in his own way. By following set forms, Schweighardt may not surprise readers. Still, her descriptions are memorable and the adventures here will satisfy. (BookLife)