Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: Pelota By Sarah Black

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis
Published by Changeling Press
ISBN 978-1-59596-839-5

4 ½ stars out of 5

Sarah Black is one of my favorite writers, and like much of her writing, this one is about two young men from different cultures—in this case, Inuit and Basque. Oliver, though he is not Basque, is obsessed with all things Basque. Jack, Japanese American, is equally obsessed with all things Inuit, and neither of them quite fit into the societies in which they find themselves.
When the wreck of a Basque whaling ship is discovered in the arctic tundra, the two young men are separately sent to the isolated and now empty whaling camp of Red Bay in Labrador, to study, from their different points of expertise, the artifacts uncovered in the excavation.

They have the place to themselves and, at first, each convinced that his specialty is the more important, they quarrel over the primacy of Basque and Inuit culture. Did the Inuit game of handball come first, for example, or the Basque version, pelota? They challenge one another to a game, but in no time at all they have discovered a game they like even better, and an even more consuming passion, the pleasure to be found in one another’s bodies. With their growing love for one another comes a growing respect for the other’s point of view. Maybe Basque and Inuit do mix after all. Cultures aren’t meant to stand apart.

It is a sweet story, romantic and sometimes intense. The passions the two young men share seem to reflect the wildness of the setting in which they find themselves. The plot is minimal, but the characters likable and interesting. There’s a tendency to offer more information than a reader might want on the two disparate cultures, and here or there it felt to me like the author was in a hurry, but neither of these criticisms diminishes the pleasure of a good story, well told by an author who knows what she is about.

A fine way to while away an hour or so, and highly recommended.

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