My Olympic Life: A Memoir
In its narrative scope, The Idealist spans two centuries, covering the 74 years of Coubertin's life from his birth in Pairs in 1863 to his death in Geneva in 1937. It reveals how the transformation of Paris into the capital of modernity helped fire a young man's imagination and how the drumbeats of war sounded by the German hosts of the 1936 Berlin Olympics spoiled an old man's dreams and left him bereft of hope for the Movement he created to foster peace among nations.
When the novel opens in early 1937, Coubertin is 74. He s broke, his health is failing, and although he has created one of the most influential international movements of the 20th century, he is completely unknown outside a small circle of admirers whose financial help he has repeatedly declined. His wife can hardly withhold her bitter animosity, his son is an insensate abyss of sadness, his daughter in and out of touch with reality, and his great creation is about to fall into the hands of a Nazi madman leading the world to war. But hope begins to rise again when a new ally appears.
The narrative is driven by the arrival of Jacques St. Clair from Le Petit Journal in Paris, a fictional but famous sports journalist who moves to Lausanne with his American girlfriend, the painter Juliette Franklin, to spend a year writing the Baron s biography. As St. Clair begins to interview Coubertin, his life story unfolds in scenes that flash back and forth between the old man in Lausanne and his memories of the seven decades past. As the dialogue between them develops, the reader absorbs their conversations, sees St. Clair's notes and reads the passages he drafts for the unfinished biography.
The story dramatizes Coubertin's entire life from his childhood and school years in France to his travels to England and the United States as a young man, from his work on the Paris 1889 Universal Exposition at which the Eiffel Tower was unveiled to his yearnings to do something great for his country and for peace. As the novel moves to its conclusion, it portrays the launch of the Olympic Movement at the Sorbonne in 1894 and the Baron's endless struggles to spread the gospel of sport through the Olympic Games from Athens 1896 through Berlin 1936. St. Clair and his girlfriend become fully immersed in Coubertin's life as she begins to paint a portrait of him and are deeply affected as his health declines and the race to finish the interviews faces an increasingly impossible deadline.
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