Author: James McCreath
Publisher: Booksurge Publishing
Even though it is cricket that evokes frenzy in India, I have always been partial to football. Marriage has made me even more aware of the nuances of the game as the Husband is a diehard football fan. If football (or soccer) can do that to a non-sporty person like me, imagine what it can do to its fans.
The game undoubtedly arouses passions and sentiments as fierce and wild as war does. This is particularly evident in Latin American countries where the sport is far more than a game.
It is a religion.
Author James McCreath has effectively captured the fervor of the beautiful game in his book, Renaldo. The book is a football lover’s delight. It is like soaking up the passion, elegance and beauty of a live football match in all its raucous, colourful glory.
Renaldo traces the fortunes of the fictional Newton’s Prefects FC, which having once slipped from its glory days, has begun to regain lustre, with its victory in the finals of the Argentine Premier League against Talleres FC.
The book begins smack in the middle of the action with the Porteños being chased by a mob of Cordobans for their taunting and insulting behaviour during a particularly intense semi-final match. It is the bravery and cool thinking of Renaldo de Seta that save them from the very real danger they find themselves in.
Seldom have I seen the leading man introduced so well in a book and here the eponymous hero is allowed ample scope to display his talents. Renaldo saves the life of Astor Armondo Luis Gordero (Gordo), astute and wealthy lawyer, investment adviser and political strategist, who is close to the military junta as well as to the business community and high-class society. He is also the chairman and majority owner of the Newton’s Prefects FC. This opens up Renaldo’s fortunes.
He is introduced to Symca, a 21-year-old rockstar, by Gordo.
Gordo pulls strings, ensuring that Renaldo’s talents can play out on the World Cup stage. The book plays out the 1978 World Cup hosted by Argentina against the backdrop of the politically unstable climate of that time. We also receive a liberally generous dose of the history of Argentina, and Renaldo’s ancestry.
Meanwhile, Renaldo’s brother, Lonnie, once a rugby player at his University, loses interest in the game and becomes more interested in politics. This period sees the political awakening of upper middle class students to the anarchy of the dictators and the military junta. Dissidence is ruthlessly crushed. Those who protest “disappear.”
Slowly Lonnie gets conscripted into Celeste’s cause. But she is a terrorist. Her hold on him is so great that he willingly joins the cause, afraid that he will go crazy if she were to leave him. Trapped under Celeste’s erotic spell, Lonnie accepts and assumes their way of life, turning his back on his own mother.
Lonnie begins to espouse what the state might consider political treason. Celeste believes in using any means, even foul, to hit back at the state and the bourgeoisie. Totally besotted, Lonnie does not realize that he is being used by Celeste and her brothers.
While the brothers are busy with their lives, Gordero manipulates their lives, seeking to gain financial control of the massive de Seta empire. We get a sense of the trap closing in on Lonnie, as Gordo sends hired killers after him.
With the shifting of the story to England, I felt a distinct flagging of interest. At this point, the author takes us back in time to the World Wars and traces the family history of the Russells, the owners and patrons of the Canary Wharf Football Club, leading to the life of the present day owner Reginald Russell, and his beautiful and volatile daughter, Mallory.
It was the only sour point in an otherwise interesting and well told story.
The author also makes a mention of the ugly side of the beautiful game. He describes how after the match, the fans descend on the field scavenging pieces of the lush green carpet, and also of the violence perpetrated by football hooligans when he says, for this monster was both human and inhuman.
Renaldo defies classification. The novel is epic in its approach, dealing as it does with three generations of the de Seta family and of the tumultuous periods of Argentine history in which their lives played out.
It is a story about football, written in a biographical vein, resembling non-fiction more than the fiction it is. The chapter in which the author describes Renaldo’s feelings towards the stadium and to the prospect of playing there proves his own love for the game.
Reading the book gives you an understanding of the author’s knowledge of football, particularly of the intricacies, which only a die-hard enthusiast, nay, a devotee, might have. I was amazed at the amount of research and knowledge that writing this book must have involved.
The descriptions of the football play, almost minute by minute, are poetry in motion. The author reveals his skill at football as much as his passion in describing the matches. The pace begins to get even quicker. The descriptions of the football matches were so riveting that not once was I tempted to skip them in favour of finding out the final score right away.
Besides football, Argentina too comes alive in his capable hands, with the wide sweep of the pampas, and the beauty of the country leaving a definite impression on our minds.
The women are all strong. Maria, one of the characters, is outspoken, as she fights for her rights against the lawyer. She even makes an impassioned speech, right there in 1905, about how women “don’t have to live under the yoke imposed on them by domineering, arrogant men!” In another instance, she adds, “I want an equal relationship with the man I marry. Partners in life, business and in love.” She is also active in the women’s rights movement.
Much as I liked this book, the indefinite conclusion left me feeling disappointed and undid all the good that the author had achieved.
(I read a Kindle version of this book on NetGalley.)