Warren Tracy, a journeyman pitcher for the 1973 New York Mets, beans Joe Castle of the Chicago Cubs during the August run at the National League pennant. Tracy is a mean-spirited, over-the-hill, mediocre pitcher fighting to stay relevant to baseball and himself when up to the place comes the most sensational rookie ever to break into the big leagues. Tracy sets him up with two outside pitches, low and away, and then lets him have it. Paul Tracy, Warren’s son, was eleven years old at the time, simultaneously proud of his professional father, fearful of his drunken rages, and utterly enamored of the rookie phenom. It is Paul’s story to tell. Thirty years later the father, the son, and the hit batsman still bear the scars. Grisham’s paean to baseball is like the game itself: warm as a summer afternoon, patient, yet punctuated with bursts of excitement.
While investigating her genealogy, the author, Andrea Stuart, learns she is the descendent of both a slave owner and a slave. She gets all the way back to the first British settlers of Barbados in the Sixteenth Century, finding a great, great (probably a dozen greats) grandfather who left Britain in search of bounty and who manages to scratche out just enough to start a lineage of sugar plantation owners. It’s an interesting idea for a book, because Stuart has enough information to fill in the gaps for a dozen generations. She covers politics, slavery, agriculture, and adventure. Unfortunately, it reads like a long Master’s thesis. A lot of research, but not that much fun to read.
Half a dozen fully realized characters intertwine as the Russian empire disintegrates in the early 2000s and the Republic of Chechnya is obliterated by two wars. Each person trying to survive in a small Chechnyan village must make his or her own decisions with respect to survival and morality as nearby buildings are destroyed and friends are disappeared. Too often those decisions are at odds. “Do I save myself or protect my neighbors and family?” In the end, we learn that a person cannot choose his family. Sometimes family members engage in despicable acts; other times we care and love for those not fully related to us as if they were. I suppose its interesting that in trying to recount this book, a narrative rich in plot, that it isn’t the action that has stayed with me, but rather issues of morality. The added benefit is that the deep research incorporated into the book offers a history lesson about a little-known part of the world without ever feeling like a treatise. I want to learn more about Chechnya. Do not be put off by the grim subject matter. Embrace this book for the great novel that it is.