New book: Bliss, Remembered, by Frank Deford ’61 (Overlook Press)
The author: Sports writer and commentator extraordinaire, Deford is a senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated, commentator for National Public Radio, and a correspondent for Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. But he’s a sports journalist who writes about much more than sports. A former PAW On the Campus reporter, Deford has written the novels The Entitled and Everybody’s All-American. His latest tale marries his interest in sports — the main character is a swimmer — with war.
The book: Set at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and in America during World War II, this saga, told as a memoir, follows Sydney Stringfellow, a swimmer from the eastern shore of Maryland, who finds her way to the Olympics where she falls in love with Horst Gerhardt, a dashing German. Back in the United States, separated from Gerhardt, Stringfellow tries to get over him and meets and marries an American, who serves in the Marines. Eventually Gerhardt — a German spy who wants to defect — appears in America, and Stringfellow is caught up in his efforts to expose Nazi subterfuge. In her 80s, she finally reveals that part of her life to her son: “It’s the real story that happened to me long ago that I want you to know about,” she tells him.
Opening lines: “The summer after my mother found out that she was dying of cancer, she asked me to come visit and watch the Olympic swimming on television with her. It was 2004, when the Games were in Athens. Mom had been on the United States swimming team in the Berlin Olympics in 1936, when she was eighteen. While she never talked about that experience — she was, in fact, mysteriously silent on the subject — she would say, ‘That’s the only thing of any real consequence I ever did in my life.’ That wasn’t true, but it was very much like her to speak so modestly.”
Review: “This book sounds so simple: Sydney Stringfellow, nearing death, sits her son down and tells him about a special, long-ago time of her life. But Deford’s beautifully written novel is a bit more complex than that,” wrote a critic for Booklist. “This multilayered, finely crafted, and elegantly constructed novel will appeal both to readers of historical fiction and to those who crave any kind of writing that is genuinely inspiring.”
For PAW’s March 2009 profile of Deford, click here