President Obama recently told the New York Times Magazine that he was reading Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland to get away from all those briefing books. Nobody appears to have followed up and asked the president whether the novel offered much solace: 9/11 hangs heavily over the story of the Dutch-born Hans, a Manhattan banker grown increasingly distant from his wife in the wake of the attacks. To clear his head, Hans turns to playing cricket, and O’Neill’s descriptions of the tactile pleasures of the sport, from the heft of the bats to the feel of the pitch under Hans’ feet, are as lovely as anything in baseball writing. In time Hans becomes entangled in the schemes of a fellow cricket fan and Trinidadian émigré, making the book a meditation on race and immigration as well as terror and estrangement—a sitting president’s idea of escapist reading.
O’NEILL DISCUSSES AND SIGNS COPIES OF HIS WORK AT 7 P.M. AT POLITICS & PROSE, 5015 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 364-1919.