A first novel from Buruma (Behind the Mask, 1984; God's Dust, 1989)--superficially about that most British of games, cricket, and one of its legendary players, but also a somewhat self-conscious and awkward meditation on nationality and cultural identity. The narrator, like Buruma, was born and educated in Holland and is a journalist specializing in East Asia. In India on assignment, he finds himself increasingly drawn to investigating the life of the great Indian cricketer K.S. Ranjitsinhji, the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, who played for Cambridge and England at the turn of the century. By all accounts, ""Ranji"" was an exceptional man: of royal blood, he was a favorite of the fans, generous to his friends, a player of both natural and practiced accomplishment, and accepted in England's highest society at the time when racial prejudice and snobbery about other cultures were rampant. These broad details of Ranji's life are revealed in an obvious and artificial way in letters conveniently discovered by the narrator and allegedly written by Ranji to his old friend and teammate C.B. Fry. Equally awkward are the interludes between the letters--where the narrator relates his interviews with those in India who knew Ranji, and his discussions with an opinionated young man, Inder, who was educated in England. In these discussions, Ranji is both the measure of the possibilities of cultural assimilation and of its limits. Ranji, the prince who believed in the Empire, was in fact betrayed in his last years when the British, responding to Indian nationalists, began paring the power of the princes. He died a sad and disappointed man, out of step with his times and his place. Intelligent and thoughtful, but the ideas and questions raised don't really sit well with the story of the shadowy and elusive cricketer. An ambitious but disappointing debut.