cover image Playing the Game

Playing the Game

Ian Buruma. Farrar Straus Giroux, $19 (231pp) ISBN 978-0-374-23452-2

Journalist and nonfiction author Buruma ( Meridian ; God's Dust ) has written often and eloquently of the odd intersections of East and West in Asia. Recently he has evinced interest in the peculiarities of class in England, his adopted home. In his first novel he examines the convergence of these two subjects through a thinly fictionalized biography of cricketer Ranjitsinhji, a transplanted Indian who starred for English teams during the Edwarian period, ``an English folk hero'' who finds himself ``depicted on such articles as matchboxes and chocolate wrappers.'' Alternating between his own search for Ranji's past and lengthy extracts from an autobiographical letter by the athlete to cricketer and classics scholar C. B. Fry, Buruma gradually unveils Ranji's own sense of deracination, his class snobberies and, finally, his presentiment of betrayal by the historical forces that will ultimately free India from colonial rule. Rather than a conventional narrative, however, this most resembles a series of essays on dandyism, the class-race nexus in the Anglo-Indian experience and the nature of Englishness. Unfortunately, Buruma's observations lie inertly on the page. (Aug.)