River Braids: Marcy Luikart
A simple photo changes a young man’s perception of his grandfather. Upon closer reflection the photo appeared to be altered or changed. Sonny Barton always thought that his grandfather, Joe won the rowing event in the Olympics. Grandfather Barton was slated to row in the Olympics, his team in place and was denied the right because of his heritage. American Indians were not considered to be white and he was told he could not race. His team thinking he deserted them it would take time before the truth would be known. Sonny Barton’s life would change from this moment on as he and his brother Charlie return to their roots, and find themselves right where Grandfather Joe wanted to them to be: On the river reliving what he could not.
River Braids takes the reader back in time as the author flashes between 2004 and 1994 as we hear the voices of several characters telling the story in his/her own words. Author Marcy Luikart reminds readers about the prejudice that many American Indians encountered and how although they fought back in some cases their voices were never heard. Sonny Barton and his brother return home to pay their final respects to their father. After discovering the photo and realizing it was altered the anger that welled within Sonny is palpable. The local bar is where this photo was house and the reader goes back in time and meets Joe’s wife Annie as their courtship is related, his friendship with her brother John and his relationship with a young Indian boy he meets in school named Jake. Torn from his home when his father decides to send him away and search for his mother, Joe befriends Jake and a lifelong friendship is formed. Through the words of Annie in her diary the story and events come alive as she relates Joe’s disappointment, how her dad his guardian wanted to change the outcome of the decision of the Committee and the final results of the race. Friendships and bonds were strong as the four men Frank, Joe, John and Charlie. A special fair with special events and although he could not participate in the rowing he could in the Wild West Shows as an Indian and in the Anthropology show. A story quite powerful as we get to know Sonny and his relationship with his brother and how and why they have grown apart. But the end result when their father passes away will change their lives, hopefully unite them as brothers and cause them to relive what their grandfather never did. The Mississippi River is the prime setting for this novel and their feelings about being what they call themselves: River Rats special.
When asked as a young man where his heart lays Joe answered The River. With this passion in his heart he decided to make sure that his will and final wishes would reflect what he was deprived. If both Sonny and Charlie what their inheritance they both with help from anyone else have to race as a team down the Mississippi and full their destiny. But, there is someone else hidden in the background whose heritage and longing to be recognized as a Native American draws readers back even further as we need Nathan, Joe’s son whose live took on a different turn. The stories intertwine, the events occur during different time periods but the outcomes might surprise the reader. Can Charlie and Sonny settle their differences, complete this race, and fix up the boats that they found and row down the Mississippi? From the Louisiana Exposition Fair in the past to where it will all begin again in the present can the East Side Boat Club make their grandfather proud? As the characters introduce themselves in each chapter you can picture the scenery with the descriptive and vividly depicted pictures painted by the author. You can feel Annie’s frustration when she does not hear from Joe and hopes that someday she will be his wife. Her father’s feelings towards him when he fails to meet his expectations dealing with the Olympic Committee. Strong minded, committed to be the man he wants to be, persistent, loyal and hopefully will overcome the many challenges that have been set before him, will Joe’s dreams come true?
Close your eyes, smell the air how crisp, clean and clear, take a trip back to the banks of the Mississippi and feel her energy. The setting is the same the stories are really no different and within each story told in the present the author relates how Sonny and his grandfather bonded in some many ways in the past.
Sonny, Frank, Roy and Charlie: The East Side Boat Club: Can they succeed? But, let’s introduce one more character who plays an integral part in Joe’s life: Aday: a black man who is the fastest runner in the world, an inspiration and whose spirit is strong. What the
River Braids takes readers back in succession three different times to Annie and her diary when finally marrying Joe. To Sonny and Charlie as they race down the Mississippi, decide their fate and we learn more about their past. Charlie never seems to be satisfied with his place in this world and his destructive tendencies might destroy him for good. As Sonny searches for Charlie when he gets drunk and takes out a boat to find something from their past that he wants to dig up what happens will surprise readers, bring back a story about a badger that you need to read and understand for yourself as Sonny and Aday teach us many lessons within chapter 47.
The final threads interlock or intertwine as Sonny comes full circle and decides where he belongs, Annie writes her final entry as the author introduces Moon, Nathan’s wife and Joe’s mother allowing readers to understand: Heritage matters!
A photo that changed the course of many lives over a 100 year span and four men whose drive, and friendship will live on forever: Greer, Smith, Johnson and Tucker: The photo says it all and their spirit lives on. Join Sonny and Charlie as they race for their destiny and find out what happens. Join Tucker, Greer, Johnson and Smith as they race down the muddy, dangerous and unpredictable Mississippi to a future that is unpredictable. Friendships, loyalties, family ties, love, heritage, understanding, roots and embracing your past and your heritage, are just some of the issues brought to light as the River intertwines the stories into a braid that has many strands.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer