In preparation for the England trip, I obtained a copy of Joseph O'Neill's award-winning novel Netherland, which features a good deal of cricket. Near the end of the book (pp. 210-11), which I read while traveling, I was particularly struck by a long speech delivered by an important character -- Chuck, a small-time criminal (and thug?) originally from Trinidad -- who explains the importance of cricket for global politics:
"Trobriand Island is part of Papua New Guinea," Chuck said professorially. "When the British missionaries arrived there, the native tribes were constantly fighting and killing each other--had been for thousands of years. So what did the missionaries do? They taught them cricket. They took these Stone Age guys and gave them cricket bats and cricket balls and taught them a game with rules and umpires. You ask people to agree to complicated rules and regulations? That's like a crash course in democracy. Plus--and this is key--the game forced them to share a field for days with their enemies, forced them to provide hospitality and places to sleep. Hans, that kind of closeness changes the way you think about somebody. No other sport makes this happen."The main character of the book, his friend Hans, asks Chuck if he is implying that "Americans are savages?"
"No," Chuck said. "I'm saying that people, all people, Americans, whoever, are at their most civilized when they're playing cricket. What's the first thing that happens when Pakistan and India make peace? They play a cricket match. Cricket is instructive, Hans. It has a moral angle. I really believe this. Everybody who plans the game benefits from it. So I say, why not Americans?"In the book, this exchange is made more interesting because Hans's estranged wife had warned of America's hawkishness in the run-up to the Iraq war. Indeed, she abandoned Hans in NYC after the 9/11 attacks, but before the start of the Iraq war.
Chuck ultimately fails to achieve his dream of making cricket a major sport in the US -- and as revealed early in the story, becomes the victim of an act of violence that kills him. Various characters eventually affirm that Chuck's plan had been doomed all along.
Chuck's business failure and murder seem to demonstrate America's savage nature after all -- though another reading would emphasize Chuck's violent business dealings (despite the fact that he loves cricket). Like his wife, Hans ultimately abandons his adopted NY home and returns to England where his wife has moved with their child. And where cricket is significant.
Like every good novel, this one makes the reader think. Whatever point O'Neill is making about American foreign policy, it is interesting that the primary characters are all immigrants (strangers in a strange land?) who feel a fairly strong love for America -- right up until the day they depart for Europe or die.
Visit this blog's homepage.
Follow me on twitter.