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A thought provoking, challenging, and worrying novel set in Los Angeles and Israel

11th June 2019

The Death of Baseball by Orlando Ortega-Medina – a thought provoking, challenging, and worrying novel set in Los Angeles and Israel.


The Death of Baseball is a story of two very disturbed young persons. Kimitake ‘Clyde’ Koba is the son of an American mother and a violent alcoholic Japanese father. They live in Los Angeles. Clyde is the name given to him by his father so that he blends better with his surroundings. Clyde was born at the exact time that Marilyn Monroe died, becomes fascinated by her, and believes he is her reincarnation. He has a troubled childhood, culminating in being sent for court-mandated psychiatric treatment for hitting a classmate around the head with a heavy stone. The classmate was trying to get him to fellate him. It is 1973.

Raphael Dweck is also from Los Angeles (although born in Israel). We first encounter him as he leaves the psychiatrist’s office after his last appointment just as Clyde arrives for his first. Raphael is a strange mixture – very orthodox religious Jew, but with kleptomaniac tendencies and a very strong sex drive. He was sent to the psychiatrist by the courts for stealing. His parents – and his rabbi – think he should move to Israel for a while to live with with an aunt (with whom he does not get on) and his three cousins. This, they believe, will straighten him out. It is a non religious life in a pretty desolate mining area. Not really the conventional view of Israel. Raphael is back in Jerusalem visiting his grandmother when two incidents occur – his aunt and one of his cousins are killed in a fire in their house, and another of his cousins is called up and sent unprepared into battle against Egypt in the Sinai. He blames himself (unfairly as it turns out) for both. He had tossed a lighted cigarette across his room as he had left (which he thought had caused the fire), and he had stripped the bullets out of the magazine of the gun his cousin carried. But neither actually impacted the situation.

We then fast forward to 1982. Ralph (as Raphael now calls himself) has returned to Los Angeles and is working as an embryonic film maker, and in the ticket office of a run down cinema. Clyde cross dresses and is Marilyn Monroe. They meet and hatch a plan to make a movie featuring reincarnation (Ralph says he feels he could be James Dean brought back to life). Their relationship is sexual, deviant, and a great deal more besides. Clyde wants to finance a sex change operation, and they decide to rob a bank. Marilyn and Jimmy (not quite Bonnie and Clyde) dress in character masks – but it then all goes wrong. Again (but not quite as in Bonnie and Clyde) this is a story without a happy ending.

The Death of Baseball is an intense and thought-provoking work. Bits are really very funny, but it should not be read for laughs. The lasting impression is one of decadence and family breakdown. It is not an uplifting book. It is, though, very much recommended.

And just one final one. The cover is brilliant – it wins our cover of the year award for 2019 (to date)!

Tony for the TripFiction team

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