CASTRO'S CURVEBALL

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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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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