Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review: “Rafa” (in brief, it’s inauthentic)

From time to time I take time out from writing about tennis to review books on tennis that have been recently published. (And I swear once again that one of these days I will get around to finishing John McEnroe’s “You cannot be serious”. Man that book sucks.) But once again I put poor John aside to read the book reportedly co-written by Rafael Nadal and a journalist-writer named John Carlin. The book is called “Rafa”.

And Rafa, the writer, gets top billing. Carlin is listed as co-author. If they had reversed the order of credit, I might have had less problems with this book. I would still find it pretentious and stupid, but the voice would have seemed less inauthentic. Let me explain.

Mr. Carlin holds a Masters degree in English Language and Literature from Oxford University. And the problem with “Rafa”, allegedly co-written by Rafael Nadal, the barely educated tennis player whom we all know and love, and this dude Carlin, is that the resulting book has the register of an Oxford graduate. Nowhere in this book could I detect the authentic voice of Rafael Nadal. He’s nowhere to be found.

And it’s not as if the structure of this book didn’t give us a chance to hear Rafa directly. The book is written in color-coded chapters that alternate between the first and third persons. In other words, the reader is led to believe that the white chapters represent the voice of Rafael Nadal himself, while the gray chapters reported in the third person are written, one assumes, by Mr Carlin.

The problem with this book is that the language of the Rafa chapters is hopelessly inauthentic and unbelievable. Rafa’s voice is just not there. I don’t know who this person is who is speaking in the first person on his behalf, but he sounds nothing like Rafa. The real Rafa should sue him because he is fraud.

Let me give you just one of easily a hundred examples. Here is Rafa supposedly describing his preparations for the 2008 Wimbledon final against Federer:  “My preparations had worked well. The emotions that would assail and overwhelm me if I hadn’t performed my ritual, if I hadn’t systematically willed myself into shedding the stage fright the Centre Court would ordinarily induce, were under control, if not altogether gone.”

¿Qué? Even when I mentally translate this piece of highfalutin’ crap into Spanish, it still sounds nothing like Rafa. The mark of a good writer is his ability to adopt the voice of the character he is portraying. The problem with this book is that while it is supposed to be Rafa’s story -- and the details of his upbringing in Mallorca, the harsh training regimen by Uncle Toni, and the simplicity of his mother’s love all certainly seem to ring true -- the problem is that Rafa’s own voice is simply not present.

As much as he seems to enjoy writing about sports, Mr. Carlin is clearly no sports historian. The language is too aloof, too sterile, too remote, too affected, too clinical, too lacking in passion -- to read like a sports tome. Yes he is a senior international journalist at El Pais. And yes he is also credited with writing another sports book with the long-assed title “White angels: Beckham, Real Madrid, and the new football”. But Mr. Carlin’s biggest claim to fame was his writing of another book with another long-assed title (“Playing the enemy: Nelson Mandela and the game that changed the nation”) that became the film “Invictus” starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman and directed by Clint Eastwood.

In contrast, the title “Rafa” is pleasingly short. Unfortunately most of the first 172 pages -- more than half of the book -- is dedicated to a rehashing of Rafa’s Wimbledon win against Federer. Except that Jon Wertheim has already been there and did that, didn't he? In the end, it seems as if Rafa just needed to gloat, to stick it to Federer one more time. He comes across as obsessed with Federer, his wins against the Fed are presented as the marquee moments of his career, which I suppose they are. I think he should be relieved that he wrote this book in 2010. Because 2011 was a whole other story wasn’t it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I read only half the book, the one allegedly written by Rafa.

I find it very difficult to perceive Rafa's personality not only in the book, but even in his press conferences. Roger has different, sometimes seemingly incompatibles sides, but they are all visible. The maturing of Djokovic, his evolution is quite obvious in the last few years. Andy Murray's character, humour and education (or lack thereof), are evident (if I remember well, he wrote a book too). And when you listen to them, you always know when they repeat politically correct platitudes they have to and when they are sincere.

But Rafa... I always have the impression that he prepares his press conferences and he is always on his guard.

From the testimony of other players, it seems eventually that he is genuinely a nice person, just like Federer and Djokovic.