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Jackie-R // On the home front


An Intimate Portrait

By Rachel Robinson and Lee Daniels

Abrams, $29.95

Reviewed by BRUCE LOWITT

Sit on the sofa, pull the family photo album off the coffee table, leaf through the pages of snapshots and notes scribbled in the margins and listen, through her words, to Rachel Robinson reminisce about the man she loved, a baseball player who just happened to change the face of America.

You could be sitting next to a favorite aunt, chuckling at the hairstyles of the '40s _ and, oh, will you look at that hat? Or getting angry all over again at that picture of the White Waiting Room sign at the Greyhound bus depot. And didn't Jackie look wonderful in his Montreal Royals uniform?

If you were born in the '40s or before, if you have been seared and scarred by memories because of your race or religion, if you loved baseball when it still was only a game, if you ever loved the Dodgers before they abandoned Brooklyn, you will cherish this poignant remembrance of Jackie Robinson's life, of Rachel's with him before during and after baseball and of hers in the nearly 25 years since his death.

If you are younger, or you haven't experienced the kind of bigotry your elders encountered, or have been turned off by the business of baseball, or Brooklyn is just another place on a map, this book is for you, too, a way of understanding something of why this game and this nation are the way they are today.

There have been biographies of Jackie Robinson, and his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, and a plethora of baseball books that encompass the game during his turbulent arrival in 1947, many of them worthwhile reading.

Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait is for browsing, the way you do a family album. In no particular order, in no particular hurry.

The essence of the story is familiar _ Robinson's accomplishments as UCLA's first four-letter athlete, his wartime experiences in a segregated U. S. Army, the trials Robinson and his wife endured as he broke major-league baseball's color line, his successes on the field, his activist role in an emerging civil rights movement. But there is much that is unique, personal and revealing, that could be told only by his wife of 32 years.

Rachel Robinson has her own story to tell as well _ raising three children in an era of discrimination and under the microscope of celebrity, her career in psychiatric nursing, her founding in 1973 of the Jackie Robinson Foundation as a memorial to his legacy of social activism.

There are hundreds of photographs, some of them familiar, many of them from the family albums and not previously published. Rachel Robinson's accompanying writing is spare, eloquent, humorous, heart-wrenching and uplifting. Take the time to sit with her; look at and listen to the life of a man who represented so much to an entire people, perhaps the most courageous athlete of this century.

Bruce Lowitt is a sports columnist for the Times.