In a farmhouse in rural New York, retired high-school teacher Billy Bryan tries to come to grips with the death of his wife of 37 years. Bryan's daughter Cassy, now a grown woman, returns home to attend to the cleanup and distribution of her mother's effects. In a forgotten corner of the attic, Cassy comes across an old scrapbook loaded with pictures of her father as a young man, a baseball player for a minor league team in pre-revolution Cuba. Leafing through the scrapbook, she is taken with the quality of the photographs, and she writes repeatedly to Cuba, eager to locate more of the photographer's work. Amazingly, a letter arrives from Cuba: In a neat script, the photographer's daughter, Evangelina Fonseca, told a fantastic tale . . . For Cassy, nothing will do but an impromptu visit to Cuba, and she insists that her father come along as tour guide. Initially not too wild about the idea, Billy allows himself to be drawn into his daughter's enthusiasm, albeit guardedly. On the plane to Cuba, Cassy prods her father, You said you would tell me more about Cuba . . . So Billy Bryan, onetime starting catcher for the Habana Lions, lover of mercurial photographer Malena Fonseca, and friend of a brash young Castro, begins his story.

Deftly cutting between past and present, Tim Wendel spins Billy Bryan's tale of love and baseball in Cuba before the revolution. Drawing upon the old sports legend that Fidel Castro had once been recruited by American baseball scouts to be a major league pitcher, Wendel paints a convincing picture of the young revolutionary, caught on the horns of a dilemma between superstardom and patriotism. Equally compelling is the portrayal of the aging Bryan facing the changes that the years have wrought both in Cuba and within himself.

Castro's Curveball is a rich, finely crafted novel of revolution, romance, exotic travel, and (of course) beisbol.

Bruce Tierney lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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