A wry, ruefully nostalgic debut novel from USA Today sportswriter Wendel (Going for the Gold, 1980) puts a naive American baseball player on a misguided quest for heroism as he tries to persuade a young Fidel Castro to pitch for the Washington Senators. In 1993, the aging Billy Bryan and his daughter Cassy make a clandestine trip to Cuba, where, half a century earlier, Bryan was catching for the Havana Lions, a Cuban League farm team whose best players went on to the American major leagues. The sad ruin that is modern Cuba makes Bryan recall the heady winter of 1947, when a student protest momentarily halted a game and a lanky, beardless Castro demonstrated the effortless baseball talent—and the potential for baseball heroism—that Bryan never had. Bryan’s pursuit of Castro led him to the passionately political Malena Fonseca, a Cuban photographer who may also have been Castro’s lover. Thus begins Bryan’s backward glance at a tragicomic adventure in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Wise to the ways of baseball, Bryan sees Castro as a charismatic fraud, manipulating adversaries and acolytes with real and metaphorical curveballs. Yet he falls in love with the manipulative Fonseca, who, after becoming his lover, compels Bryan to sacrifice his career to save Castro from an embarrassment that could have thwarted the revolution. Fonseca refused to accompany Bryan back to the US, and died shortly after growing disillusioned with Castro. Now, on his furtive return to Cuba, Bryan wonders how he’ll ever know whether Fonseca really loved him; questions whether Evan, the daughter Fonseca bore before she died, is really his; and ponders how the world might have been different if either Bryan or Castro had become the baseball greats they—d hoped to be. A superbly crafted meditation on heroism, duty, and the irony derived from recognizing everyone’s imperfections but your own.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-345-42441-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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