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Jewball Paperback – September 28, 2012
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About the Author
Neal Pollack is the author of the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, the novel Never Mind the Pollacks, and the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Slate, Salon, GQ, Vanity Fair, and Maxim. He lives with his wife and son in Austin, Texas.
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Top Customer Reviews
I was leery when I first saw this book on Amazon's virtual bookshelf. I couldn't tell whether the title was pejorative or respectful. But based on the book's description and the low price at the time, I decided to give it a whirl. I'm glad I did.
A goy like me had no idea of the role that basketball played for urban Jews in the early 20th century. Unlike games like football that require large fields to play, basketball can be played on city playgrounds and inside gymnasiums, which made it the perfect game for big cities.
Jewball is the story of young Inky Lautman who is recruited to play in the SPHA:
"If no one played basketball quite like the Jews, then no Jews played it quite like the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association. People respected them when they traveled around. But in Philly during the SPHA's heyday, which lasted from the mid-twenties until the mid-forties, they were heroes..."
I loved this story. I loved the characters and I loved the setting. It takes place during the pre-war years in and around Philadelphia. I loved the exposure to a culture I'm not completely familiar with. Luckily I read it on my Kindle so I could look up a lot of the Yiddish words and phrases that were foreign to me.
Writer Neal Pollack admits to taking some liberties with the history, but at the end of the book he includes a "Notes on the History" section where he clears up the facts versus his fiction. And aside from a few parts that used a little too much kitsch for me, I thought Pollack's writing was great. He struck a very comforting balance between noir, romance, and sports. (There was one line that really bugged me though: "A sun the color of rancid butter wrenched itself over the rim of the Delaware.")
I'm not a basketball fan whatsoever, but the sport was a huge part of the plot and he integrated the game very well into the story.
I loved this book and I was sorry when it was over. There was enough material leftover that I could have kept reading for another 500 pages, but I'm not the guy doing the writing. I highly recommend this book to all audiences--Jew or gentile, male or female, basketball fan or not. It's as comforting as grandma's kugel. Well done Neal Pollack!
I couldn't help but see the main character Inky as a pseudo-Neal type character (If that's possible) but that was really the only distraction for me.
As a Philadelphia native it was fun to actually know the places he was naming- from interscections to public transportaion depots.
It got a little corny with the 40s talk (dames, broads, smoked filled back room type stuff) but that's likely historically accurate so what do I know?
In all- I was able to relate to the characters- they seemed real. I enjoyed the love/hate relationship between Litwack and Lautman and had a perfect image of Gottlieb at the end throwing papers into the air. The stuff a good book is made of.
I wasn't DYING to get back to it each time- so only four stars but still a good read at a great price. Cheers!
I have read some historical novels put the the author's research front and centre. The historic detail (early professional basketball and 1930s American ethnic politics) is pretty compelling without getting in the way of the fast moving plot. The basketball is fun and easy to understand by a (very) casual fan.
The plot is simple and fast moving. It would be a page turner if there were any pages. Perhaps the best part of the novel are the cahracters. Genre fiction can sacrifice character for concept. Jewball's characters in general come across as interesting and true..
This high caliber of indie published fiction gives me hope for the future of American lit. Here's an author in the full presence of his craft, taking creative control and (sorry to mix sports metaphors) hitting it out of the park.
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