Review: Chopra’s Shapeshifter

Shapeshifter: The Evolution of a Cricket Fan

(awaiting publication)
Samir Chopra

For many sports fans, myself included, our personal lives are intertwined with the fortunes of millionaires we have never met. I remember watching, with my father, when Brett Favre threw for four hundred yards the night after his own father died. I remember the fights I got into with my relatives around the coded racism of the country’s hatred for Barry Bonds, and I remember the joy and anger I felt, holding my infant son, when I watched Shabbazz Napier win the national championship and talk about how he’d gone hungry while leading UCONN to a multi-million dollar pay day.

This is what it means to be a sports fan – to have your personal history tied up in the history of sports teams. A critique can be made of caring this much about sports, but I’m not the one to make it. Just before writing this review, I checked the chances of the Giants making the post season. It’s not looking good.

Shapeshifter, by my friend, the philosopher Samir Chopra, is a memoir of a sports fan. A cricket fan, specifically, and the ways that he and his cricket fandom changed over the years. As Samir moves from a boy in Delhi to a man in New York City, his thoughts on the game, and his team allegiances change. In part, these changes are due to his changed circumstances, but also because of the changing nature of the teams themselves and geo-political upheavals. Its difficult to parse out how these things happen, but Samir focuses closely on his own feelings and rationalizations and paints a compelling picture of how our taste for the game effects our lives, and our lives our taste for the game. Along the way, Chopra pulls for Australia, Pakistan and India while also losing loved ones, immigrating, falling in and out of love, and wrestling with what it means to be a Indian-American, a husband, and a father.

There’s a lot of cricket in this book, and (like the stereotype Samir calls out) I do not understand cricket. That didn’t stop me from loving this book. While much of the cricket talk went right over my head, I could still appreciate the voice of a fan, explaining the sport he loves, and how that fandom reflected and informed everything else Though Samir’s sports and life story are different, I see a lot of myself in this work. I imagine other sports fan will as well.


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