I know next to nothing about baseball. I saw one baseball game in my entire life, and this was many years ago, when friends from work took me to see the Red Sox play at Fenway Park. I remember sitting in the 600 Club (later renamed, so I understand) with an American on either side of me trying to explain what was happening on the ballpark. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why so little was happening and yet the numbers on the board kept changing. At one point, a guy sitting in front of me turned around and asked if this was my first baseball game. I said yes, and he said “well, you got the best seats for your first game!”. Needless to say, I was not impressed.
My baseball history is relevant to the review of this book, because it took me three tries to get past the first few pages. Baseball lore and lingo are like Chinese to me (actually, I probably know Chinese better than baseball). But I’m glad I eventually got past the first pages, as this turned out to be a lovely book to read. What helped me through was the fact that the other main theme accompanying the story, other than baseball, is, for lack of a better word, Jewishness. That, I can relate to.
Ganny is a teenager who loves baseball. His grandmother is Jewish, but his mother married a Catholic (and converted). So he attends church on Sundays, but takes his grandmother to the synagogue – in what feels like an almost natural reality for a mixed-marriage boy growing up in Philadelphia in the 1950s. He has a special relationship with his grandmother, who seems to understand him better than anyone else, especially when things turn a little magical and irrational in his life.
Yes, this is a book also about magic. Magic that, naturally, involves baseball; Ganny is able to (almost) watch legendary baseball games from the past with the aid of an old man whom everyone (except his grandmother, of course) thinks is a total meshuggeh. But the real magic begins when Ganny starts searching for his princess, together with his brother and his best friend. During his quest, he breaks a butcher’s window with his baseball, and when he retrieves the ball he also finds a cockroach (look at the book’s cover). From here on, the story takes on an almost surreal nature, but one that draws the reader in ever more deeply.
A cockroach is not the most obvious creature one associates with a love story. And yet Bohnhoff is able to take this insect and turn it into something lovable, something the reader can identify with as an object of desire and love. (Which reminds me of Donald Harrington’s “The Cockroaches of Stay More”, a great book). She weaves a story of a boy’s dream and his quest to make that dream true, and does so in a way that is both sad and humourous. The description of the buildup to the triple wedding and the wedding event itself, made me laugh out loud a couple of times.
I don’t want to give too much of the story away. I felt myself yearning for Ganny to finally find his princess, especially after realising who the princess was and how she manifested herself to Ganny. Despite the difficult beginning (for me), this is a well-written story that might bring both tears and smiles to those who read it.