Big League Dreams

Allen Hoffman, Author
Allen Hoffman, Author Abbeville Press $24.95 (294p) ISBN 978-0-7892-0191-1
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Paperback - 296 pages - 978-0-7892-0583-4
Open Ebook - 297 pages - 978-0-7892-6005-5
Open Ebook - 297 pages - 978-1-281-60543-6
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In this second volume (after Small Worlds) about a group of Hasidic Jewish immigrants from the Polish village of Krimsk and their lives in St. Louis in the 1920s, Hoffman fashions a haunting, bittersweet story of exile, dislocation and redemption in the Promised Land. Mystical, enigmatic Rebbe Yaakov Moise Finebaum again strives to save the souls of his widely straying flock, even as he seeks to reconcile the disparities between the values of the Old World and the lures of commerce and assimilation to which many of his former parishioners have succumbed. Perhaps the most well known of these is Matti Sternweiss, starting catcher for the St. Louis Browns on a Saturday (Jewish Sabbath) in 1920. (Baseball, of course, is the metaphor for America, its ""sacred"" game.) Matti is clever, philosophic and kind--but he is betrayed by his desire to marry a shiksa into contemplating throwing a game against the Detroit Tigers. Ironically, after he defies temptation and does the right thing--including a showdown with Ty Cobb at home plate--Matti pays the price for his fall from grace. Robust humor, insight into human nature and an absence of sentimentality augment Hoffman's storytelling skills, as he deftly intertwines several subplots (one of them nothing short of hilarious) and portrays a dozen or so characters with understanding and compassion for their foibles. The contrasts between shtetl life in Krimsk and the strange new culture of America--where a renegade rabbi defies Prohibition by making wine in the synagogue basement, and an avuncular chief of police and his lieutenant break the law and unleash tragedy--provide the narrative with and irony and tension. And the prophetic Rebbe's effort to reconcile Biblical injunctions with the manifold mysteries of American society provides a trenchant commentary on both religious and secular worlds. Author tour. (Sept.)
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