This year marks the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut in Major League Baseball. To mark this, a new book on him has come out and it is a very different type of biography that does include a very different look on one of the most recognizable athletes to have ever graced a playing field. Here is my review of "True".
Title/Author: “True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson” by Kostoya Kennedy
Rating: 5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review: Jackie Robinson is a person who needs no introduction or explanation on what his place is in history, even for people who have no interest in baseball. There has been much written about him that covers just about everything he did in sports, for civil rights and every other aspect of his life. So it was with curiosity that I decided to read this book on Robinson by Kostoya Kennedy, wondering what more could be written about him without simply rehashing what others have written.
It turned out to be a wise choice – this book was outstanding in many aspects. The first of which is simply the idea for the subtitle. By writing about four different years in Robinson’s life span which would be considered the season of his career and post baseball life, Kennedy portrays Robinson and his wife Rachel, who is just as important a figure in this book as is Jackie, in a very different context than most other biographies do.
The best example of this would be the first season, Spring, which details the year 1946 when Robinson played for an otherwise all-white team, the Montreal Royals. It was the year before Robinson made his historic debut for the Dodgers and it was remembered fondly in the book by everyone Kennedy referenced. It has been well-documented that this was done to prepare Jackie for the rough treatment he would receive in the Major Leagues, and it isn’t right to say that his time in Montreal didn’t have its rough patches as well. But that doesn’t take away the excellent memories shared by Rachel with Kennedy about how they were treated, nor does it detract from the overall picture created about that year.
The other chapter in which Kennedy’s work shows its excellence is the last chapter, Winter, which is about Jackie’s failing health and Rachel’s strength in 1972 before he passed away that year. The chapter’s beginning was very powerful as it describes Jackie’s struggles to travel in order to attend the funeral of one of his beloved Dodger teammates, Gil Hodges. The help Jackie received from other teammates and even how Kennedy described the sudden death of Hodges sets up the reader for a very powerful conclusion to the book.
This type of writing, save for all pleasant memories and instead providing excellent narrative no matter what the emotions of the time may bring, is present in the other three seasons as well. Whether the reader is thrilled by the success on the field for Jackie in 1949 when he was the Most Valuable Player in the National League, stunned by the realization that his baseball career is over when he made the last out of the 1956 World Series (and his subsequent trade to the rival New York Giants, to whom he would not report) or saddened by reading about his health struggles in his last year of life, this is a book that should be read by all – not just baseball fans, but everyone who has any interest in Jackie Robinson the man.
I wish to thank St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.