Enikő's Reviews > Tropic of Hockey: My Search for the Game in Unlikely Places

Tropic of Hockey by Dave Bidini
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's review
Feb 24, 2012

liked it
Read from February 20 to 23, 2012

So, an okay book, considering I am not a big hockey fan... not really a hockey fan at all, to be truthful. I also admit that I would have a hard time naming even one Rheostatics song. Yet, Dave Bidini made it to Canada Reads this year, so I thought it might be interesting to read something by him.

All in all, not a bad read. The fact that I kept reading owes a lot to the writer's style. Down-to-earth and easy to understand, he also peppers it up with some hilarious outbursts and understatements. His one-word sentences made an interesting impact. With that one word, you knew what he meant.

Part One of the book tells of Bidini's visit to China to participate in a hockey tournament. The are teams from several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, which is where we find Bidini is Part Two. Bidini's chinese is pretty much limited to "I play hockey", but there are a few interesting conversations where he and other players throw players' names at each other and receive nods and grunts as replies. As Bidini explains, he could not have had such a conversation about other topics because they were too complex. But to hockey fans, a player's name evokes images, memories and emotions that are easily shared without words. I also found it hilarioius when Dave skated over to the Chinese bench to talk with the players, and came away ruminating about what a funny friendship it was, and then just as the game gets back under way, one of the guys he befriended slaps him with his stick so hard that Bidini eventually goes back to the bench to find a huge red welt. His response, another one-word sentence, made me howl with laughter.

Although not a hockey person, I was able to enjoy this book because when Bidini writes about hockey he uses a simple language that I can understand. Although there were some hockey terms I was unfamiliar with, not to mention the seemingly neverending parade of players' names, I was able to get the gist of what he was talking about clearly enough to appreciate the moral of the story, or the hilarity of the anecdote. It was also interesting to observe some universal aspects of the sport, like the dad who pushes his son to play better and better, yelling from the sidelines (or from directly behind the net in one young goalie's case) during the whole game, while the son just wishes Dad would go away and let him play and have fun already. One aspect of the game I was less taken with - because I don't understand it, frankly - is how players can go nuts in the heat of the moment, swearing, yelling crude insults and behaving way too brutally for my liking. It's hard for me to reconcile the image of a nice guy traveling the world to discover hockey at the grassroots level with the brutality and the profanity that sometimes exited his mouth during a match. I also really wish that one of the anecdotes in the book about such behavior weren't about a musician in my favorite band. *sigh* But, what can I say. Everyone is human and, although humans are a social animal, they are still, at some basic level, sometimes just animals.

The second part of the book was very interesting in showing how hockey culture was evolving in the desert among arab players. Bidini's narration was hilarious when describing the conditions he expected to see as opposed to what he actually came across. I also liked to read names such as Dubai Penguins and Mighty Camels.

For me, Part Three was the hidden gem in this book. Picking up a book about hockey - about hockey around the world - I don't know why I was surprised, but I WAS, (and pleasantly so!), to find all of Part Three dedicated to Hungarian hockey players. Actually, they were Transylvanian Székelys, but, as any Hungarian will tell you, same difference! So I guess it IS ironic that, similar to how Bidini often said that at certain moments of his journey, he felt like he was home, and that I found a story that was so interesting to me not becuase it was about hockey, but about Hungarians for whom hockey is part of their identity, something that once meant life or death to them in the political turmoil of Romania. I have also added Ciuc, Transylvania to the list of places I would like to see one day. I want to go to Vakar Lajos Arena and look at the photos in the lobby. I want to see a photo of Lajos and his wife Elizabeth and think how funny it is that I am standing there becauase of a book about hockey I read in Canada.

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Reading Progress

02/22/2012 page 149
48.0% "So far so good. I picked this book up in the library because the author also wrote a book that was on Canada Reads this year. Part One was about a hockey trip to China. Very surprised to find an anecdote about Jim Cuddy in there. (Not a very favorable one, but who am I to judge?)" 6 comments

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