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.