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May, 1864. In a moment of quiet during the endgame between Grant and Lee, a Union and a Confederate company meet, not entirely by accident. The Union soldiers are a motley company of Irish, English, and German stock, all ragged and worn from the Battle of the Wilderness. Left behind to guard their army's flank, they decide to relax with a baseball and bat when, as if by magic, a company of Alabama infantry appears from the woods. These ordinary soldiers determine to play baseball with the enemy, perhaps for diversion, perhaps to remind themselves that they are still human.In the ensuing days, Brooklyn meets Alabama four more times on the playing field, even though their armies collide in the horror now known as Spotsylvania. As every game and skirmish brings them closer to a violent end, what began as a game turns into a business as serious as death and dishonor, and each soldier realizes the price and the prize that betrayal offers.
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At first glance, the storyline of Thomas Dyja's Play for a Kingdom story sounds corny: a Union company from Brooklyn encounters an Alabama company while on picket duty after the Battle of the Wilderness (May, 1864) and proceeds to challenge them to a series of baseball games before all hell breaks loose in Spottsylvania. The first-time novelist, however, has surprises up his sleeve, and the vividly described sporting matches set up a series of betrayals and double crosses which test the camaraderie of the Union soldiers, calling their commitment to the war effort into question.
Dyja has a gifted understanding of the powerlessness one faces in combat. War in this novel is not tragic merely because it kills and maims good men; it is dispiriting because it robs them of their identities. He handles the multiple points of view of his Brooklyn protagonists superbly, differentiating them by class, social standing, and ethnicity, and aptly shows how the war frays their senses of themselves. Commanders become followers, Irish racists hide amongst black gravediggers, and staunch abolitionists measure their belief in liberty against their gut instincts concerning the corruptibility of human nature. If the sectional crisis of the first half of the 19th century was settled on the fields of battle, the class struggle of the second half was forged in the streets of Brooklyn--making Dyja's company all the more fascinating for the way they illustrate the transition. Although the novel's climax abandons historical materialism for genre convention, the tense mixture of espionage, betrayal, and vivid battle scenes in Play for a Kingdom should please discriminating fans of Civil War fiction. --John M. AndersonAbout the Author:
Thomas Dyja has worked as a book editor and literary agent. He is the author of the award-winning novel Play for a Kingdom, as well as Meet John Trow and The Moon in Our Hand. He lives in New York City.
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