A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played (Anglais) Relié – 21 avril 2009
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Revue de presse
—Wall Street Journal
“Tennis has seen plenty of great matches…but none with the extra-athletic significance of the Budge-Cramm affair…as the match enters its final set, all the narrative pieces lock together and A Terrible Splendor becomes as engrossing as the contest it portrays...Cramm’s life is a movie development deal waiting to happen.”
“Richly detailed…the story moves from one nail-biting set to the next against a backdrop of improbably high personal and political stakes.”
“Vivid…The compelling nature of the match, in tennis terms alone, would be enough to make this a gripping read…But tennis is almost the least interesting element of Fisher’s account. For the historic match between the two players took place in London, with the world poised for brutal war and the players bringing all manger of psychological baggage on court with them….[Fisher] shows how sport can stand both outside the ‘real world,’ and yet remain subject to its dark whims.”
“Exciting…a thoroughly riveting account of an intense human endeavor…the astonishing, inspiring story of a sports hero who was not merely a heroic tennis player, but a genuinely heroic man.”
—The Commercial Dispatch
"Marshall Jon Fisher has masterfully woven the story of Europe on the edge of war, a man pursued by the Gestapo, and America on the rise into the tale of the greatest tennis match of the century. A Terrible Splendor is tense, tragic, beautifully told, and immensely enjoyable."
—Atul Gawande, National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestseller author of Complications and Better
"Forget Federer versus Nadal, and Borg versus McEnroe. Marshall Jon Fisher convincingly demonstrates that the greatest tennis match of all time was Gottried Von Cramm versus Don Budge in the 1937 Davis Cup semifinals. This is one of the best sports books you will ever read. But it's more than a sports book: as absorbing as the drama unfolding on Wimbledon's Centre Court is, it's surpassed by the drama of history swirling outside it. Fisher masterfully weaves biography, history, and sports--and sex and romance and the drums of war--into a thoroughly riveting narrative. Full of ironic twists and astonishing revelations, A Terrible Splendor is a literary triumph."
—Scott Stossel, Deputy Editor, Atlantic Monthly
“Marshall Jon Fisher has turned a tennis court masterpiece -- American Don Budge versus German Gottfried von Cramm to decide the 1937 Davis Cup -- into a literary masterpiece. Blending their lives with the darkening times, Fisher illuminates bygone cultures in the fascinating tale of a July afternoon in London.”
—Bud Collins, writer for the Boston Globe and commentator for ESPN and Tennis Channel
“There could be no more disparate characters in any sport than Bib Bill Tilden, Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm. Marshall Jon Fisher has done a marvelous job of weaving the threads of these three lives together at a time when the world was coming apart and at the moment when Budge and von Cramm were playing in the most important — if not the best — tennis match ever. This is sports history at its finest and most thorough.”
—Frank Deford, Senior Contributing Writer, Sports Illustrated, and Commentator on NPR’s “Morning Edition”
“Through the prism of one of the greatest tennis matches ever played, Marshall Jon Fisher throws open a window on the terrifying world of the thirties in Europe; illuminating in vivid detail the persecution of Baron Gottfried von Cramm; the pitiful kow-towing to Hitler by the tennis authorities and, rising above it all, the innate sportsmanship of the two friends and rivals, von Cramm and Donald Budge. Between every Budge backhand and von Cramm volley, history rears up in all its ‘terrible splendor.’”
—Richard Evans, Correspondent, The (London) Observor
“For those of us who believe that tennis is a metaphor for life, here at last in this marvelous narrative is proof, served up on the rackets of Budge and Von Cramm. A Terrible Splendor is a wonderful account of a time of great historical drama, with the world on the brink of war, and everything resting, or so it would seem, on getting the ball back over the net just one more time.”
—Abraham Verghese, author of The Tennis Partner and Cutting for Stone
"I’m grateful for my ignorance of tennis history, since if I’d known the outcome of the 1937 Davis Cup match before I read this engrossing book, I might not have sat on the edge of my seat and bitten my nails as Don Budge and Gottfried von Cramm served and volleyed. Marshall Jon Fisher captures two memorable characters, illuminates their historical and cultural milieus, and keeps us in delicious suspense."
—Anne Fadiman, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and the New York Times bestseller Ex Libris
Présentation de l'éditeur
But the match’s significance extended well beyond the immaculate grass courts of Wimbledon. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the brink of World War II, one man played for the pride of his country while the other played for his life. Budge, the humble hard-working American who would soon become the first man to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year, vied to keep the Davis Cup out of the hands of the Nazi regime. On the other side of the net, the immensely popular and elegant von Cramm fought Budge point for point knowing that a loss might precipitate his descent into the living hell being constructed behind barbed wire back home.
Born into an aristocratic family, von Cramm was admired for his devastating good looks as well as his unparalleled sportsmanship. But he harbored a dark secret, one that put him under increasing Gestapo surveillance. And his situation was made even more perilous by his refusal to join the Nazi Party or defend Hitler. Desperately relying on his athletic achievements and the global spotlight to keep him out of the Gestapo’s clutches, his strategy was to keep traveling and keep winning. A Davis Cup victory would make him the toast of Germany. A loss might be catastrophic.
Watching the mesmerizingly intense match from the stands was von Cramm’s mentor and all-time tennis superstar Bill Tilden–a consummate showman whose double life would run in ironic counterpoint to that of his German pupil.
Set at a time when sports and politics were inextricably linked, A Terrible Splendor gives readers a courtside seat on that fateful day, moving gracefully between the tennis match for the ages and the dramatic events leading Germany, Britain, and America into global war. A book like no other in its weaving of social significance and athletic spectacle, this soul-stirring account is ultimately a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.
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There may be "three extraordinary men" in the subtitle and in the book, but Cramm is the one the book is really about. The others are Don Budge and Bill Tilden. Budge wasn't extraordinary except in his capacity to play tennis. Tilden was extraordinary in that in the 1920s, and also that he was a flamboyant but closeted homosexual whose exploits were constantly bothering the American tennis bureaucracy. Tilden is part of this story because he was keeping his hand in the game by helping to coach Cramm and his German team. But this is Cramm's story, or rather the story of Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt von Cramm, born at his family's manor near Hanover in 1909. Cramm was a gentleman, with a refined, thoughtful, but powerful game. He was the soul of honor, refusing to take points the officials mistakenly called for him. He was handsome; one observer said, "Every year that von Cramm steps onto the Centre Court at Wimbledon, a few hundred young women sit a little straighter and forget about their escorts." Cramm was, however, a homosexual. His homosexuality was not much of a problem in Weimar Berlin in the early 1920s, but after that the Nazis were putting homosexuals into concentration camps. He detested the Third Reich, refusing to talk it up when he was on tour. The match to decide the 1937 Davis Cup at Wimbledon is one of the many tennis tournaments described here. Fisher has woven parts of the match into the larger narrative of the book, and though the actual play isn't as important as the larger story he has to tell, the battle between Cramm and Budge sounds as if it was a game no one in the stands would ever forget. Journalist Alistair Cooke was there, and wrote, "The two white figures began to set the rhythms of something that looked more like ballet than a game where you hit a ball. People stopped asking other people to sit down. The umpire gave up stopping the game to beg for silence during rallies." James Thurber was there, too, and reflected on the end of the match that it had been "something so close to art that at the end it was more as if a concert had ended than a tennis match. The shouts of `Bravo!' when it was over came out of an emotion usually reserved for something more important." Hardly anyone knew that, as Cramm put it himself, "I'm playing for my life." As long as he kept winning, the Nazis were willing to overlook his unorthodox ways, and when Budge managed a last splendid shot, no one beside Cramm knew how much he had lost. But he was a real sportsman. Having lost the match, he went to Budge, clasped his hand, and said, "Don, this was absolutely the finest match I have ever played in my life. I'm very happy I could have played it against you, whom I like so much. Congratulations."
Cramm had been right about playing for his life. Less than a year later, he was thrown into prison for "moral delinquency", and afterwards he was sent to the Russian front. He got frostbite in both legs, but after the war he returned to tennis, and took up cotton importing. He couldn't visit the United States again; even if it had been a bunch of Nazis who had convicted him of a morals charge, it prevented him from getting a visa. It could have been much worse for him; homosexuals liberated from the prison camps after the war were sent to regular prisons to finish their sentences. The law making them criminals wasn't revoked until 1994. _A Terrible Splendor_ is the astonishing, inspiring story of a sports hero who was not merely a heroic tennis player, but a genuinely heroic man.
In telling the lives of Baron Gottfried Von Cramm, German tennis player, Don Budge, an American player from head to toe, and Bill Tilden, one of the mightiest racquet-wielders ever, and building their stories around the 1937 Davis Cup match between Cramm and Budge, Fisher brings to vibrant life the years between the two world wars, and the very different places that each of these players came from and answered to. Fisher illustrates through strong and engaging writing the dramatic differences that country, age, and sexual orientation played for these three men, and brings home the magnitude of their achievements, on court but also in their lives.
Cramm was an aristocratic German with impeccable good looks, sportsmanship, and tennis playing. Opposed to the policies and practices of the Nazis, and gay, Cramm was safe from Nazi persecution only so long as he kept winning tennis matches for Germany. Budge was a middle-class American with phenomenal tennis skills, a love for Jazz and good times with the Hollywood cronies who befriended him, and solid support from the United States Tennis Association. Bill Tilden was the most famous tennis player of his time and into our own, as heralded for his amazing and enduring tennis-playing as for his off-court persona, infamous for his on-court antics, and highly irritating to the USTA for his bullheadedness as well as his ill-closeted gayness. Fisher gives us insight into all three, as well as solid introductions to many other figures of the times, including American tennis player Gene Mako, Queen Mary of England, English playwright Christopher Isherwood, German-Jewish tennis player Daniel Prenn, up and coming American Bobby Riggs, Hollywood types like Jack Benny and Charlie Chaplin, heiress Barbara Hutton, and Nazi terrors Goring, Himmler, and Hitler himself. That was the mix of the 1930s, a world indeed "poised for war." For some, World War II would bring persecution, deprivations, and personal tragedy, for others a new responsibility and realization of life's chaos, and for others, death.
The tennis match around which A Terrible Splendor is structured is told with perfect timing, building momentum and suspense then taking a break (neither disruptive nor jarring) to tell more of the background history, personal and political and social, and then taking us back into the match. The book drove me through emotional ranges of tears, anger, and excitement, and I could not put it down, as caught up as I was in the amazing lives of these three very distinct individuals, the times they lived in, and the match itself. Indeed, I was on the edge of my seat throughout this marvelous book and unsure until the end who won this incredible battle that went five sets, who survived the spiraling years into World War II, and who met the promise of a world beyond tennis and beyond war. I will never forget Cramm, Budge, or Tilden, or this great book, A Terrible Splendor.