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Original Issue

A Game of Life

The Tennis Partner
By Abraham Verghese
HarperCollins, $25

This excellent book is about tennis to the same degree that Moby
Dick is about whaling. The game, while certainly as important to
this physician-author as the high seas were to Melville, is
ultimately a device with which Verghese can explore much larger
themes--friendship, love, healing, alienation, loneliness,
betrayal, addiction and, inevitably, death, not to mention
Verghese's penetrating insights into his own profession,
medicine. That he so capably accomplishes all this in a memoir,
while at the same time holding the reader in his narrative spell,
is no small literary achievement.

At a troubled time in his own life, Verghese, employed at a
teaching hospital in El Paso, encounters a medical student who
not only shares his lifelong love of tennis but who also once
played the game professionally. Somewhat timidly, the doctor
invites the younger man, a transplanted Australian, to play with
him at a tennis club. There, on the court, the roles of mentor
and protege are reversed. In time the two men develop a mutual
sensitivity at play that extends into their professional and
private lives. In surpassing word pictures, Verghese captures in
their rallies on court the tensions of intertwining lives growing
increasingly complex. Verghese, struggling with his own marital
separation, learns to his mounting consternation that his genial
and accommodating tennis partner is, in fact, a deeply troubled

At one point, the partner, David Smith, remarks to Verghese,
almost off-handedly, "There's something I don't understand...
you're as passionate about tennis as you are about medicine. It
seems of those would be enough.... And meanwhile,
see, for me...all I could excel at was that one bloody thing,
tennis. And...when it was over I had to find a life, didn't I?"

So a tragic story of drug addiction gradually unravels. This book
transcends its purported sporting theme. It belongs in the
library of the thoughtful reader, although it doesn't hurt if
that reader also happens to be a tennis buff.

--Ron Fimrite

COLOR PHOTO: HARPERCOLLINS [Cover of book The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese]