Note: I was provided a review copy of this book by it’s publisher.
In “Breaking Ground: How Jackie Robinson Changed Brooklyn”, author and teacher Alan Lelchuk tells the familiar story of Jackie Robinson from a different perspective: that of the people of Brooklyn, especially his family, including his parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia. It’s a short book, more of an extended essay of 117 pages, and it’s an overall mixed bag.
First, the good. It is a unique look at Jackie’s time in Brooklyn told by somebody who was growing up there as it happened. While obviously colored by nostalgia and the passage of time, Lelchuk’s stories of how the diverse people of Brooklyn identified with Robinson are poignant. After all, many of them had suffered discrimination and persecution, and now their team had a similar outsider who was suffering from discrimination. There are also good stories about the effect Robinson had elsewhere in America, but it’s mainly about Brooklyn. You can really tell how much Jackie meant to them and Lelchuk.
However, this is far from a perfect book. At times, Lelchuk turns on the schmaltz a little too high or enters into “back in my day” ramblings, and still other times the English scholar kicks in a bit too much as he enters into comparisons of Robinson to fictional characters and other notable figures. It’s a bit too thick, given the subject matter, but thankfully they aren’t too numerous. Still, at times, it feels as if he is just filling space to make it long enough to justify being a book instead of an unusual long article.
Those cons are enough to keep this from being far from a must-purchase. Instead, it’s likely just for the Jackie Robinson completists out there. It’s not a bad book, but it most definitely isn’t for everyone.