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The Celebrant: A Novel Paperback – January 1, 1993


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the Ragtime tradition of revolving a fictional world around a factual core, Greenberg's 1983 novel is a polished gem, which is fitting because it is partly built around a jeweler. Though The Celebrant never caught on much with the general public, its adherents were virtual zealots; to them, reading the novel bordered on having a religious experience. Its sophisticated weaving together of the life of Christy Mathewson, the Giants' great hurler and role model, with a family of immigrant Jews in New York in the first quarter of the 20th century captured their imaginations--then sadly disappeared for almost a decade before its welcome reissue.

On the surface, The Celebrant is obviously a baseball story--many of "Matty's" greatest on-field feats are meticulously recreated--as well as a story of how deeply the game reached into the lives of new arrivals from the Old World desperate to become American. On a deeper level, it is a stunning meditation on the fragile balance between the heroism of a man who won World Series rings and the hero worship of the young jeweler who made those rings for him. Its simplicity is deceptive. The Celebrant does much more than celebrate; it paints the corners of another era and another ethos with the command and control Matty himself was known to exhibit. --Jeff Silverman

Review

"An oft-overlooked novel that blends fact and fiction to create a charming turn-of-the-century tale about the intertwined lives of New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson and the family of a young Jewish immigrant who makes his World Series rings."—Sports Illustrated
(Sports Illustrated)

"In this fictionalization of the life and times of New York Giants pitching star Christy Mathewson, the author has written a richly detailed narrative."—Library Journal
(Library Journal)

"The reconstructed accounts of Mathewson's most famous games reflect painstaking research and a colorful imagination."—Booklist
(Booklist)

"Greenberg splendidly evokes the essence of turn-of-the-century America by deftly mixing fact and fiction in the tradition of Ragtime."—Kansas City Star
(Kansas City Star)

"A captivating novel."—People
(People)

"Greenberg recreates the famous events of the era, from the Merkle saga to the Black Sox scandal, in enchanting detail. If this isn't the best baseball novel ever written, it's definitely in the top five. A real treasure!"—Elysian Fields Quarterly Review
(Elysian Fields Quarterly Review)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books; Reprint edition (January 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803270372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803270374
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By scutchen on October 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
I thought "The Natural" and the Kinsella books, "Shoeless Joe" and "The Iowa Baseball Confederacy" were just too dark and odd. Coover's "Universal Baseball Association" was so obsessive-compusive...
Until now, my favorite baseball novel was "If I Never Get Back", by Darryl Brock. This is a wonderful novel with a strong historical link to the 1869 Red Stockings, as the main character joins the Cincy team and travels with them throughout the East Coast and even off to San Fransisco. Add time travel, Mark Twain, buried treasure and a love interest, and this novel is a blast.
But I now have a new favorite.
"The Celebrant" by Erick Greenberg
I read about this book on various lists of great baseball books, but the plot always seemed to sound a bit weak. Well, it is a masterpiece. The research done by Greenberg to get the Mathewson baseball correct is sooo cool. From the details of the Merkle Boner to the Snograss Muff and the subsequent call-off of Merkle in favor of Chief Meyers by Matty... From Matty quitting in shame as manager of Cincinnatti after the Hal Chase debacle and enlisting for WWI to the Black Sox World Series of 1919. Game after game sounds like a current event. Very cool, very accurate stuff. This is early 20th century baseball as if you were there. Combine that with the insight into the title character's immigrant family and their establishment of their jewelry business and its intertwining with baseball. Add some wonderful prose. A true masterpiece.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
One of the best baseball novels I have ever read! The author, Eric Rolfe Greenberg, wonderfully interweaves the era in American history before World War II, both baseball and non-baseball, as seen through the eyes of a fictitious immigrant Jewish family with the character development of that family. Every character, including the minor ones, is fully and realistically developed. My only minor criticism is that the denouement following the decision that climaxes the novel was handled somewhat clumsily, but that doesn't detract from this novel's 10 rating. The discerning reader will continue to ask himself two questions long after he has finished the novel: 1) Would I have made the same decision and 2) Who is the Celebrant? From a 1998 perspective, he will also have discovered some ticklish historical irony. My favorite dramatic moment is Giant manager John McGraw's dramatic confrontation with umpire Hunkerin' Hank O'Day after the famous Merkle incident.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jay Gambol on October 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Why are so many great baseball stories essentially tragic ones? This novel is the best baseball novel I've yet read, and I can understand how fans of the novel can consider it a religious experience. It's a story of worship, that most essential of human activities, a baseball fan's worship of the first true immortal of the game. Its details are rich without being overwhelming, its characterization classic and familiar but not trite. The dynamic between the celebrant--the jewel designer Jackie Kapinski--and the celebrated, Christy Mathewson, plays out like Greek myth or biblical narrative, and exposes the need for, and dangers of, someone to believe in.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Jordan on May 4, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book not only takes you back in time to see the early baseball legends so clearly you think you actually watched them play, but it also creates a picture of the era they lived in: life-style, business experience, ethnic experience. It would make a great choice for a high school student doing a book report or history report on the early 20th century.
The Celebrant shows us the origins of hero worship at the birth of the pop culture era - both good and bad. Jackie's love of Matty is embodied in the beauty of the rings he gave the pitcher and at the same time it is obsession that leads (at least in part) to the destruction of someone Jackie has a "real-life" relationship with (as opposed to one based on fantasy).
Some reviewers here are not satisfied with the ending, but I kind of enjoyed the ambiguity of it. This man will never be able to remember the joy of watching Matty pitch without also thinking of the personal tragedy it will forever be linked with. The great and the terrible are forever woven together in a past we see clearly through Jackie's memories.
This observation won't make sense unless you've seen the film, but there's an epilogue at the end of Barry Lyndon (and I'm butchering it) - "all these souls, whether good or evil, great or small, are all long dead and forgotten save to memory." Something like that. That's how this book plays out. It's very much in the past. Very much a part of distant memory and yet Grenberg gives us access to those memories as if they are our own. When I see picture of Matty now I smile as if I watched him play myself. And there's saddness in the memory. I remember Matty's life cut short and I remember Eli. And they both are equally real to me.
Anyway, it's a wonderful time machine and you need to have that baseball fan in your life read it - especially if it's a young person who never heard of the "immortals."
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