Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn book ties childhood with Jackie Robinson

September 4, 2015 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photos courtesy of Mandel Vilar Press

Brooklyn BookBeat

When Jackie Robinson started playing for the Dodgers, it was the first step of the Civil Rights revolution in baseball. While this historic event has been recorded in numerous books, “BREAKING GROUND: How Jackie Robinson Changed Brooklyn,” which debuts Sept. 22, by the critically acclaimed author Alan Lelchuk offers several revealing insights about Jackie Robinson’s career from an unusual perspective.

First, it is an eyewitness memoir that captures in atmospheric detail the impact of Jackie’s very presence on Ebbets Field from the adoring eyes of a 9-year-old fan, who saw him play often. Second, it explains how Jackie’s special personality and play affected the borough of Brooklyn and changed it forever. Third, on a more personal level, “BREAKING GROUND” tells the story of how Jackie became an important figure inside the immigrant Lelchuk household, where a left-wing father, who had felt much hostility and estrangement from both America and his son, suddenly started to learn and understand the country of his son and of his own exile. “BREAKING GROUND” transports readers from the national baseball stage to the emergence of an iconic American city, from the throes and struggles of new immigrant family to a young boy’s deepest pleasures.

In this unique memoir, we experience the joys of the game of baseball, its native nuances and its quintessential American qualities. We understand how Jackie played the game with a rare excellence and excitement that actually challenged the way the game had been played, an excellence that has been rarely duplicated. We also experience the climate of racial prejudice and the Cold War that pervaded the post WWII era. We witness the responses from the kids of Brooklyn who took Jackie into their hearts and minds and made him their own personal folk hero. We see how the nation began to look at the borough of Brooklyn in a different light, one that highlighted a pioneering spirit and suggested a path forward in race relations. Finally we can sense in “BREAKING GROUND” the joys of childhood and youth that tied together a young Brooklyn fan and the greatest Dodger player.

“BREAKING GROUND” dramatizes the bond between the chosen city and the chosen hero–with beautiful detailing, and a fine moral exactitude. It is a hymn to baseball and its legendary hero, a lyrical narrative that will beckon to all readers and listeners who were ever called by the sirens of youth, Jackie, baseball and Brooklyn.

Alan Lelchuk was born and raised in Brooklyn, attended public schools and Brooklyn College for his B.A. in world literature and Stanford University for his graduate degrees in English. He has been on the Dartmouth College faculty since 1985, lives in Canaan, New Hampshire, is married and has two grown sons.