Book Review: The Olympian: An American Triumph
Publication Date: Oct 25, 2010
List Price: $26.95 (store prices may vary)
Page Count: 252
Parent Company: iUniverse
Book Reviewed by Emanuel Carpenter
What must it have been like to be the first African-American Olympic gold
medalist? Would the feat have instilled pride in a nation whose history had
shown brutality and hate to his race? Could the accomplishment make the
whole world stand up and take notice to black athletes in the United States
and to their people as a whole? The answers to these questions might be
found in the debut novel, "The Olympian."
Craig T. Williams begins his debut novel with a cheating scandal. Wharton student and runner John Baxter Taylor has been accused of stealing the idea for his paper from a fellow classmate whose paper is almost identical. Since the other student involved is white as well as his accuser, it is no surprise that he is suspended without as much as a hearing. Guilty before proven innocent was not uncommon for blacks in the 1900s, and his plight was no exception. Taylor overcomes this setback the only way he knows how, by running. He runs as often as possible. And eventually, it pays off…all the way to the Olympics. But this is not just a story about an Olympian and his adventures during the Olympics. Instead it is a journey in the life of a man who must overcome life's obstacles and yet come out on top.
Regardless of the times, Baxter manages to live a fairly decent life. He is brought up by good and proud parents, including a mother who adores and cheers him and a father who prepares him for the real world of prejudice and bigotry. Taylor even finds the love of his life in Mary Agnes, a spitfire with a kind heart and well-to-do family. Their old-fashioned courtship is one for the ages.
Craig T. Williams does a good job at capturing the essence of what life must have been like for blacks in the 1900s, including the long-forgotten mannerisms that are sorely missed in this day and age. He also reminds us of the overt racism that wreaked havoc on lives. His first-person narrative allows you to experience what the main character experienced, such as in this passage:
"…There were people in the crowd who turned their attention to me with such intensity that I felt like one of the "features of the fair," as I was the only Negro wearing an American uniform."
"An ordinary man would find it difficult to be comfortable under such inspection, but in the land I'd come from, I was accustomed to being stared at like a sideshow oddity, examined like a lab specimen, or ignored as though I were invisible. I had crossed the line between the high visibility afforded my athletic talent and the invisibility conferred on me by the color of my own skin. But on this great day, there was no stare that could halt my steps or cause me to lower my eyes. I was here to see this beautiful city and the Great Stadium that loomed ahead."There are passages like the one above that will show readers that Williams is a good writer. It is obvious that he thoroughly researched his work because he manages to capture the essence of the era effortlessly. He evens includes photographs of the protagonist and his teammates, which may cause you to wonder what is fiction and what is fact. That's a great feeling when reading historical fiction.
History buffs, sports fans, and those seeking a bit of nostalgia will like this book. Others may wish the writer had not been so heavy-handed on the narration and that he perhaps would have added a bit more excitement to the work. With the omniscient power to change history, he only manages to tinker with it, which results in a few ho-hum moments.
"The Olympian," is still good and would make a good Black History Month book club discussion. It will be interesting to see how this writer blossoms from good to great.
John Baxter Taylor Jr., The Olympian - An American Triumph (Book Trailer)