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Vulnerable in Hearts: A Memoir of Fathers, Sons and Contract Bridge [Hardcover]

Sandy Balfour
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Sep 2005
Sandy Balfour's father and the game of Contract Bridge were both conceived in 1925. Vulnerable in Hearts spans the eight decades of Tom Balfour's life and the same period in the epic story of Bridge's spread around the world. Sandy Balfour's poignant and beguiling book traces both journeys to explore the relationships between a game and an empire (and the rules that supported it); and a father and a son. Part memoir, part history, part entertainment, Vulnerable in Hearts is a meditation on how we communicate; why we play games; and the ways in which we love.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (28 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843543656
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843543657
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.8 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 802,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"'A formidably clever book' Daily Mail 'An extraordinary memoir... a positive page turner... A mesh of journeys and destinations, politics and romance, it touches what is beyond words' The Times 'A little gem... The book lingers in the memory long after the final page' Sun Telegraph" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Sandy Balfour is an award-winning television producer and the author of Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8): A memoir of love, exile and crosswords. He writes the 'X-files' crossword column for the Guardian.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful memoir 6 Oct 2005
By A Customer
I read Sandy Balfour's previous memoir, Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) which is about 'love, exile and crosswords' and I loved it. But when I read he had done a second one, this time about 'father, sons and contract bridge', I wondered if he would pull it off. The answer is an unequivocal yes. Vulnerable in Hearts is much better written - you can feel Balfour's confidence in his own ability - and the story of his relationships with his father and (to a lesser extent) his son is much more complex and layered. And - although I am not a bridge player - the story of the game worked well for me. I don't have any real criticisms of the book. It flows well from the personal to the game and back again. The passages in which Balfour explores his relationship with his father are particularly moving and his use of bridge as an extended metaphor is convincing and gentle. A lovely book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant 6 Oct 2005
By A Customer
This is an absolute gem of a memoir. I had little interest in Bridge before reading this book, little more than I once had in cryptic crosswords, the subject of Sandy Balfour's previous book (Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)). But Balfour has once again managed to transform a rather obtuse pastime into something enchanting, almost mystical, by weaving stories of the game's history, conventions and eccentricities into the fabric of his own life. The author's relationship with his late father, a devotee of Bridge, is at the centre of this extremely honest memoir which with sublime dexterity, and no small amount of dust-dry humour, combines themes of belonging, loss, regret and learning with a brilliantly entertaining journey of how a parlour diversion became a truly world sport full of intense rivalry and high-stakes.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sweet deal, well played 6 Dec 2006
By T. Burket - Published on
Sandy Balfour's family memoir, with emphasis on his father, is a charming and unusual book, and an easy read at only 200 pages. Bridge was the anchor for Dad's life, which otherwise was a disappointment in several ways, compared to his potential. Dad could shine at the bridge table and let his personality come through. Lessons in bidding, playing the hand, and relating to your partner and opponents also were proxies for life.

The title comes from a comment near the end: "to be alive is always and everywhere to be vulnerable in hearts," recounted as he waited for father's imminent death. The title is simply a wonderful play on words and suited for a memoir that combines the complex game of contract bridge and similarly complex life in general. To some degree, to understand bridge is to understand the father.

The book opens and closes with the death of the author's father. In between is a combination of the author's memories, a recounting of his father's life, and the history of contract bridge. The connection, besides the importance of the game in his father's life, is that contract bridge was invented the same year as his father was born.

Father and his brothers were shipped from Scotland to South Africa as youths in advance of World War II, presumably to avoid service. Father ended up serving anyway and returned to South Africa permanently, although never completely leaving his native Scotland.

The history of bridge, blended with the story in small doses as well as more extended sections, was very well done. I will assume it is accurate. It flows briskly, with a nice mixture of overview and detail, aided by several colorful personalities, such as Culbertson, and big names, such as Goren.

Knowledge of bridge is not required, although it is helpful. I have played a little, so that the re-telling of various hands and the evolution of different bidding systems was not foreign. Players will no doubt enjoy some specific hands shown and speculate on what they might have done, just as in a bridge column.

My only slightly negative comment is that the book lacks for action; not a lot happens. Perhaps some more anecdotes would have been appropriate. The family wasn't quite interesting enough, as presented, to take the book to the next level.

I highly recommend the book for readers looking for an unusual memoir, and especially for bridge fans of middle age and beyond who can appreciate the bonus view of contract bridge over their own lives.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great gift for a bridge player 11 Aug 2009
By Janina D. - Published on
This book was an excellent Thank You gift to a bridge playing couple who invited us to stay in their home. They were thrilled with the book - which is all about bridge and relationships - and especially that we were able to find a copy even though it is currently out of print.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grand Slam 28 Oct 2006
By Ginna in Cville - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
You don't have to be a bridge lover to enjoy this story of a young man's experiences in pre World War II Scotland, England and South Africa. But it helps! As the author's father says "Everyone likes bridge, they just don't know it yet." I highly recommend this wonderful memoir.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of teens will find the father, son and game interrelationships intriguing 15 Sep 2006
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
While Vulnerable In Hearts easily reaches an adult audience, this memoir is reviewed here for its special interest to young adults as well, telling of a father, a son, and contract bridge, which binds their worlds. Eight decades of Balfour's father's life and the same period in the history of bridge are provided in an intriguing world history of the game. Plenty of teens will find the father, son and game interrelationships intriguing.
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