The Johannssens are a sailing family: adventurous, fanatical, and, for now, a complete and total mess. Ruby, a prodigiously talented skipper, has taken off for Africa. Bernard is god-knows-where at sea. And at thirty-one years old, Josh Johannssen, the middle child, is fixing up an old family boat and trying to figure out where it all went wrong. When Josh’s father coaxes his children home for one last yacht race, the Johannssens find themselves reunited under thrilling circumstances that will change the course of their lives. Before the Wind is a funny, tender, and big-hearted novel about a gifted, volatile family whose love for the sea rivals their love for each other.”
About the Author
Jim Lynch is the author of the novels The Highest Tide, Border Songs, and Truth Like the Sun, all of which were adapted for the stage. He’s won the Indies Choice Honor Book Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and was a finalist for the Dashiell Hammett Prize. Lynch lives and sails with his wife in Olympia, Washington.
Date of Birth:November 3, 1961
Place of Birth:Seattle, Washington
Education:B.A.s in English and Journalism, 1985
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Sailing like Einstein
Excerpted from "Before the Wind"
Copyright © 2017 Jim Lynch.
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Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Before the Wind, Jim Lynch’s compelling saga about an estranged family of eccentrics who reunite after years in order to compete in a world–renowned regatta.
1. The Johannssen family treats sailing not as a sport, but as a way of life. Discuss how sailing acts as a sort of moral compass for each member of the family. How does the philosophy of sailing echo throughout the book?
2. On page 15, Josh states that his father called him a “thinker, which wasn’t a compliment.” Explore Josh’s relationship with his father. What aspects of Josh’s personality does his father find irritating? How does Josh handle his father’s aggressive (and often unfounded) criticism?
3. How would you describe the parenting styles of Mr. Johannssen versus Mrs. Johannssen? What behavior or traits do they value most? How do they impress their values on their children?
4. On page 18, Josh states “There are so many ways to disappoint your family.” How does this early admission set the stage for the rest of the narrative? Who, from your perspective, is the most “disappointing” child?
5. Discuss the idea of “legacy” and how it echoes throughout the novel. How do Grumps and Bobo chase the idea of preserving their legacy?
6. Describe the atmosphere at Swiftsure. How has it changed over time? What is each family member’s motivation for participating in it?
7. Josh asserts that “things never did add up with” Ruby. Explore the mysticism around Ruby’s persona. How would you describe her personality? How does her free-spirited nature help to build a mythos around her?
8. Trace the roots of Bernard’s radical, anticapitalist behavior. What stokes his anger toward societal conventions? After the Johannssens determine that he is living outside of the law, how do they react?
9. What import does the “doomsday” scenario predicted by Noah’s father have on the plot of Before the Wind? How does it affect the mood and atmosphere of the marina?
10. Josh’s dating history is explored throughout Before the Wind. What does he value in a relationship? What is his hubris? Why is he attracted to Sunita?
11. How would you describe Sun-rise Marina? What does Josh enjoy most about it? Discuss the incident in which the storm ripped the docks away from the marina. What symbolic importance did this hold for the narrative?
12. The momentum of Before the Wind comes to its apex during Lynch’s description of the Johannssens’ participation at Swiftsure. Discuss the family dynamics at play during the race. How does the trip act as a salve among family members? How does it open old wounds?
13. Josh’s narration provides the framework for viewing the Johannssen family. How does this fit in with his role as the “glue” of the family? How does he act as mediator between family members?
14. What was your level of familiarity with sailing before reading Before the Wind? If you are a frequent sailor, did you find Lynch’s appraisal of the sport to be accurate? If you are not, did Lynch’s descriptions of seafaring adventures inspire you?