“It’s not the people who’ve never fallen or lost that are worthy of our admiration. It’s what you do after you fall that’s the surest test of a hero.”
Playing winter baseball in Cuba is the only path left to the major leagues for Billy Bryan in 1947, and the deep-thinking catcher knows that he doesn’t have many chances left to stand out to the people who decide who makes it and who doesn’t. Cuba is at a similar crossroads as young revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro are working to usurp the country’s government and instill a new way of life for its people.
Billy and Fidel’s lives intersect on the baseball diamond one night as Castro leads a group of radicals onto the playing field during a game, and Billy offers young Fidel a chance to throw a few pitches. That interaction sets Billy off in an unexpected direction, and he finds himself in the middle of a revolution and falling in love with Malena Fonseca, the photographer tasked with documenting it.
Malena’s photographs are why, more than 40 years after leaving Cuba, Billy finds himself on a plane headed back there with his adult daughter and a host of memories of baseball, Castro, Cuba, and the woman Billy left behind.
CASTRO’S CURVEBALL by Tim Wendel combines sports, history, and personal relationships in a wonderful amalgam with a terrific plot and characters that make you care deeply about them. The story alternates between modern day(ish) and Billy’s final days in Cuba in the 40s.
Full disclosure so you know how biased I am–I love Billy Bryan, and not just because “aging catcher” is my favorite baseball character in both literature and film. Billy has more depth than the typical sports protagonist, he has an old school sense of honor, and his story is set in a fascinating time. I haven’t studied nor read much about Cuba in the late 40s, but after reading CASTRO’S CURVEBALL, I’m going to have to remedy that.
But since I do love baseball so much (baseball was the first game I learned to play with any level of nuance), let’s talk about the baseball scenes for a minute. Those sections are incredibly well written, and I could almost feel the grit from the infield and hear the crack of a bat every time the book’s action took me to the ballpark. That said, when reading a book that revolves around a sport, I’m often sad when the plot takes me anywhere other than on the field, but that wasn’t the case with CASTRO’S CURVEBALL. I was thrilled to find that the action outside of the diamond was just as engrossing as the games in which Billy played.
CASTRO’S CURVEBALL is a great book of historical fiction, it’s a fantastic sports book, and the relationships between the covers are just as intriguing as the play between the foul lines. I regret that my dad isn’t alive so that I can share the book with him and get his take on it–I’d love to talk about this novel with someone else who is a fan of baseball, history, and politics. If you’re that person, read the book and hit me up. I’d love to chat!
I hear that there’s a sequel of the book coming out soon, and I’m excited to read that one, too. Kudos to Tim Wendel for creating characters and a story that will stay with me for a while.