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April 15, 2015

Book RANT: The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris

I've come across a lot of books that I didn't like...books with bad characters, books that would have been better if they had ended differently...but until now, I've never come across a book that infuriated me as deeply as The Eastern Stars by Mark Kurlansky.


I first learned of this book over a year ago and hadn't been able to find it anywhere...not even on Amazon. When I stumbled on it at a Georgetown bookstore's sidewalk sale, I  started reading it right away.

Within the first few pages, I was fuming. I immediately had to call my mom and vent and she was just as pissed off as I was. I actually took notes on this book for this post.


Before I go any further, here's the book's synopsis from Goodreads:

The intriguing, inspiring history of one small, impoverished area in the Dominican Republic that has produced a staggering number of Major League Baseball talent, from an award-winning, bestselling author. 

Now, full disclosure. I am Dominican. My mom was born there and I've been there a few times. I'm related to one of the baseball players mentioned in this book. As a Dominican baseball lover, I was dying to read this book. After all, nearly 1/4 of all baseball players right now are Dominican.

Instead of a factual, nonfiction book that needed to be written about the prevalence of Dominicans in Major League Baseball, this was a poorly researched, factually incorrect book that was not only outrageously offensive, but was less about baseball than about...I'm not sure what...the sugar industry? Maybe?

Kurlansky starts the novel by saying that the Dominican Republic has no culture...that even the name of the country is "less poetic" than other Latin American countries, thus proving it's lack of culture. He claims that everything that is inherently Dominican actually comes from somewhere else. So, by that logic, the US also has no culture.

The Dominican Republic was colonized by the Spanish in 1492 after Columbus landed there. It's Native Dominican culture (the Tainos) was destroyed by a genocide and the DR  went through over 400 years of colonial rule (by the Spanish, French and Haitians, then the Spanish again) before finally achieving independence. Sure, because of this, dances like merengue and bachata and foods like mofongo might have their roots somewhere else, but they're just a few examples of the various things that make up the truly iconic Dominican culture. (Come to Christmas dinner at my house and tell me that the DR has no culture.)

If you have only ever been to resort towns like Punta Cana, then sure, go ahead and say that the DR has no culture. You'd be wrong, but I can see your point...but if you've been anywhere on the island, as the author supposedly has, you can't say that. I find it tremendously ironic that Kurlansky, an American author writing about baseball can say that "even baseball isn't Dominican" when baseball doesn't even have it's roots in America! Hello, cricket anyone? To argue that a country has no culture because it's roots come from somewhere else is to argue that every single country in the world has no culture...including the US.

After bashing the country's "lack" of culture, he then goes on to say that most Dominican baseball players are illiterate which is simply untrue given the fact that the country has a 91% literacy rate (the 9% illiteracy most likely stems from the Dominican-Haitian border, the country's poorest region NOT San Pedro de Macoris, where this book is referring to). To add to his seeming generalizations about Dominican education, he claims that the average Dominican didn't even know about WWII when it was happening. The Dominican Republic wasn't involved in WWII. This was before mainstream television so even if this was true, where would the information have come from?

In continuing with his offensive generalizations about Dominicans, he consistently refers to migrant workers in the DR (mostly Haitians) as "cocolos" which is actually a pretty derogatory word. In discussing race in the DR (a fascinating topic that I do not feel qualified to discuss having not grown up in the DR) he says, that 'some pregnant women eat white food to make their babies white' which is not only untrue but a hard generalization that is again, incredibly offensive. To see an interesting artistic portrayal of race in the DR, check out this article).

Aside from his cultural "observations," he also goes on to say that the Dominican Republic was, until recently, the poorest country in Latin America...beat out by Nicaragua.

What? Almost all of the countries in Central America have had a lower GDP than the Dominican Republic for years! The DR probably hasn't been at the bottom of that list since before independence.

When Kurlansky finally gets to talking about baseball, it's a negative portrayal of the players who haven't made it with only a few sentences about the noteworthy players. Robinson Cano, one of the best ball players of our generation (which it pains me to say not being a Yankee fan) is discussed in all of 3 sentences, while almost an entire chapter talks about his father's lackluster career through the Minors. The book then goes on to discuss Sammy Sosa's and Alex Rodriguez's steroid use, before discussing any of the real accomplishments of Dominican ball players. In fact, some of the players he mentions aren't even Dominican!

After the minimal discussion about the accomplishments of Dominican ball players, Kurlansky turns his criticism to their philanthropy and how seemingly none of them give back to their communities...despite the fact that President Leonel Fernandez disagrees citing that most of them return to the DR in the off season and build bigger houses for their families and retire back to the DR, contributing to the Dominican economy. This isn't a country that people leave and never return to. Some do, but many of them go back after they retire, living in the US only to play baseball.

In the end, this book was truly disappointing. It wasn't a book about how baseball changed the Dominican town of San Pedro de Macoris...or even about how baseball has changed the Dominican Republic. I'd love to read that book...provided it was written by someone actually qualified to talk about baseball.

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This post got really long, but you can tell I'm passionate about this. I love baseball and I love my heritage. I'm proud of it and this book didn't do either of those things justice. If you really want to learn about the rise of Dominican ballplayers in the Major Leagues, I highly suggest you watch the 2008 film Sugar.

What's the last book you read that really made you mad?

4 comments:

  1. UGH, that's awful! What a shame the research was a sham and it wasn't the book you hoped for, that is super stinky.I've never been as passionately upset about like this, but I've been pretty disgusted with characters and how authors write them. The woman in Paris Wife drove me insane because she was so meek, complained about things and did nothing. UGH. Do something to change the situation or shut it!

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  2. Ugh, bummer about the book. It sounds like a poorly researched insult. What a farce!

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  3. I'm really sorry that this book was so offensive--it honestly sounds like he did no research and just wrote about stereotypical things that he'd either heard or thought.
    I've definitely been disappointed in books, but I've never been offended like you've experienced with this book and I hope that I never am. I'm sorry you read it :(

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  4. I'm disappointed to hear this book didn't deliver the potential it had. I want to read the same one you do --- the one that tells the real story.

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