A disturbing and provocative illustration of an important topic.

BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

TEARS IN THE PERFECT HOCKEY "GULAG"

A former youth player chronicles the abuse he suffered as part of a notorious Ukrainian hockey team.

Depicting one’s experience on a hockey club as an Iron Curtain Gulag is certainly provocative—and that’s exactly the aim of former player Starchenko. The Ukrainian was selected at age 8 by coach Ivan Pravilov to play for his squad, Druzhba-78. Druzhba means ‘friendship,’ but the coach’s behavior was anything but affable. Starchenko would endure 10 years of cruel and inhumane behavior at the hands of Pravilov, who, the author alleges, abused the players for his personal satisfaction and entertainment. Each chapter is a tormenting slice of the physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse forced upon hopeful kids, all of whom would quickly and repeatedly succumb to a man practicing total sadistic control. Starchenko eventually breaks his allegiance with the “monster” at age 18, moving to North America, marrying and becoming a coach himself. He writes his story in hopes that it will “encourage other former players to step forward and make Ivan Pravilov accountable for his actions.” The text’s often unemotional tone belies the author’s attempt “to relieve myself of the huge emotional burden I carry on my shoulders whenever topics of child abuse and molestation arise.” That cathartic statement is about as expressive as Starchenko gets in recounting matter-of-fact descriptions of incident after unbelievable incident. It could be very likely that the stoic writing parallels the detached mechanisms that the player used to cope. The more discerning reader will quickly gather that the venue of the rink is ultimately insignificant; various aspects of hockey are not even discussed until the eighth chapter, and the balance of the book continues with barely an account of the game itself. The coach’s tactics are repeatedly compared to those of Stalin, a comparison that hardly falls into hyperbole. Pravilov was arrested shortly after this book’s release, so it remains to be seen if Starchenko will be legally vindicated.    

A disturbing and provocative illustration of an important topic.

Pub Date: Dec. 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1434985538

Page Count: 158

Publisher: RoseDog

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2012

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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