In the chaos of upended lives after 9/11, a cricket connection is made.
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Despite roots in the United States that go back further than either professional baseball or football, Americans tend to be baffled by this most English of sports, leaving it to be practiced by immigrants from other former British colonies (and the occasional Anglophile), as Joseph O’Neill details in his strikingly written new novel, Netherland.
"Every summer the parks of this city are taken over by hundreds of cricketers but somehow nobody notices,” says Chuck Ramkissoon, a volunteer umpire and the unlikely friend of Hans van den Broek, the league’s lone white player. Hans first meets Chuck in 2002, after another player questions one of Chuck’s calls by pulling a gun on him. Hans plays in Walter Park as part of the Staten Island Cricket Club, which, he tells readers, was founded in 1872.
“The playing area was, and I am still sure is, half the size of a regulation cricket field. The outfield is uneven and always overgrown, even when cut ... and whereas proper cricket, as some might call it, is played on a grass wicket, the pitch at Walker Park is made of clay, not turf, and must be covered with coconut matting,” Hans explains. “This degenerate version of the sport – bush cricket, as Chuck more than once dismissed it – inflicts an injury that is aesthetic as much as anything.”
Aesthetics aside, the sport is the lone connection tethering Hans to the outside world in the months after his wife leaves him in the fall of 2001, taking their baby son back to England. The van den Broeks had to evacuate their Tribeca home after the attacks on the World Trade Center, but Rachel makes it clear that it’s not fear making her leave, it’s Hans.
Reeling, Hans hunkers down in a $6,000-a-month apartment at the Hotel Chelsea, among a population of transients, drug dealers, and the occasional film star. “Over half the rooms were occupied by longterm residents who by their furtiveness and ornamental diversity reminded me of the population of the aquarium I’d kept as a child.”