Kick and Run: Mem­oir with Soc­cer Ball

  • Review
October 30, 2013

I loved Kick and Run. Full dis­clo­sure: it could have been my sto­ry, if I was as smart and fun­ny as Jonathan Wilson.

He describes the pro­gres­sion of his life through the prism of the soc­cer ball, that heavy leather orb that made any British young­ster jump for joy at scor­ing the win­ning goal for Eng­land on the way to school.Jonathan and I briefly lived oppo­site each oth­er in Hele­na Road, NW10, so I can vouch for the cul­tur­al authen­tic­i­ty of his account of life in that tiny Jew­ish enclave. But he makes the sto­ry his own by sharp insights into his some­times trou­bled youth as a Jew in Lon­don, accom­pa­nied through­out by hilar­i­ous tales of the tri­als of life with moth­er Doris.

His love of soc­cer is a con­stant thread as he trav­els to Amer­i­ca to study lit­er­a­ture, to Jerusalem to teach, and to Boston to teach, write, and raise a family.

Jonathan, direc­tor of the Cen­ter for the Human­i­ties at Tufts, and author of two nov­els, two col­lec­tions of short sto­ries, and a biogra­phy of Marc Cha­gall, infus­es his tale with such a var­ied and per­ti­nent flow of eru­di­tion that he man­ages the unlike­ly: to make soc­cer a think­ing man’s game.

His lit­er­ary and artis­tic digres­sions while dash­ing down the wing with the ball and get­ting fouled are hilar­i­ous and bril­liant. He enlists the aid of the philoso­pher Jacques Der­ri­da as well as F. Scott Fitzger­ald and the Russ­ian for­mal­ist Vik­tor Shklovsky to explain his juve­nile (yet last­ing) pain at not mak­ing the Willes­den Under 11 soc­cer team.

But oh, the delu­sions of the aging. Play­ing in the over-40’s league, Wil­son glee­ful­ly sprints down the line only to over­hear his son tell his girl­friend, It’s like he’s run­ning in slow-motion.”

He charts his growth from dis­tract­ed school­boy to author and pro­fes­sor, via his child­hood encoun­ters with endem­ic British anti-Semi­tism, his family’s woes, and his years among artists and writ­ers and poets in Jerusalem, with such sen­si­tiv­i­ty and humor, that this mem­oir is a true delight; it rings true at every turn.


Read Mar­tin Fletcher’s inter­view with Jonathan Wil­son about Kick and Run here.

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