Picks and Pans Review: Manute: the Center of Two Worlds
He is the tallest man to play in the NBA and arguably the least talented. For a time, 7'7" Manute Bol, a Dinka from a small tribal village in the Sudan, was that rarest sports phenomenon: inept, yet beloved. His every appearance provoked an audible buzz. And now, remarkably, the Philadelphia '76er's unorthodox fame has spawned a book. Relying largely on reportage (there is precious little from Bol himself), author and Sports Illustrated senior writer Leigh Montville takes readers on a journey through Bol's native Sudanese marshes, the netherworld of college basketball that got him to the U.S. and his subject's efforts to draw attention to the desperate starvation in his homeland. Bol's life provides fascinating fodder. We learn that for seven months as an adolescent Manute drank up to 20 gallons of milk a day to fulfill a Dinka ritual and that he was once forced to sing songs to his family to keep from crying while enduring cuts across his forehead in a coming-of-age ritual.
Despite the book's attempt to elevate Bol beyond freak-show status, Bol's inarticulateness makes his story, like his game, wear thin. (Simon & Schuster, $20)