Mica is a classic young teen. Enthusiastic. Idealistic. Dreaming baseball. At 13, he is studying for his Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish coming of age rite. He takes to heart his Rabbi’s requirement for tikkun olam, the adult responsibility to help “heal the world.” He imagines himself a savior of sorts, and launches a grand plan to send baseballs to less fortunate kids in Latin America. Narrowing his focus, he lights on Cuba, a country with a mysterious pull. He knows only that Cubans lack resources and love baseball like he does. Many of their star players have defected to play in the U.S. professional leagues. He also knows that Cuba saved his grandpa’s life.
At age seven Grandpa Herb fled Europe with his mother, when his own father was sent to Auschwitz. Intending to join relatives in New York, they were unexpectedly delayed in Cuba when the U.S. sealed its borders after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Luckily, theirs was not the fate of the infamous ship, the St. Louis—they were not sent back to Nazi Europe. Instead Cuba offered refuge, and Herb spent the early 1940s in
Havana, while his Viennese playmates and his father were killed. Late in 1943,
Herb and his mother were granted visas and found their way to New York. Nearly 70 years later, Mica wants to repay the debt. Enthusiastically collecting bats, mitts and balls, he never considers that his good intentions might not be enough.
Havana Curveball affords the unusual pleasure of observing a child growing up, both physically and psychically. As Mica shifts from high-pitched boy to broad-shouldered young man, he squares off against the complexity of the adult world. The simple act of giving, which drove his idealism at age 13, seems elusive at 14 and 15. Facing the obstacles the U.S. embargo throws in his way, he must decide how far to follow his dream. Researching, writing letters, imploring his senator, meeting Cuba activists and an attorney, trying to make sense of a high school history lecture and his grandpa’s own resistance, he wonders if the whole enterprise is even possible, let alone worth it.
After two years, he finally boards a plane to Havana with his family, 200 pounds of baseball gear, and all the rhetoric, expectations, and worries of family, friends, and history in tow. Imagining he is finally in the home stretch, his experience there will transform his sense of self, and pose the profound question, “does what I do matter?”
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