Monday, March 9, 2009

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town

Outcasts United was an Advanced Review Copy sent to me as part of the early reviewer program to which I belong. The author, Warren St. John, published a series of articles about the Fugees (a refugee soccer team in suburban Atlanta) in the NYT and then left to live in Atlanta for a few months and write a book about this unusual team.

Mr. St. John is an adept storyteller and from the introduction has me captivated by this timeless tale of a band of refugees from all the war torn corners of the world and thier coach--Luma Mufleh--who brings them together to play soccer and to teach them to become Americans as the rest of the world has forgotten them. Mr. St John gives us a view, not only of each of the boys who joins the team, but also of the beleaguered town that hosts the boys, that cannot seem to understand that the world is changing. It is a well rounded story with many facets and many angles and the writer explores them all.

Luma and her boys battle racist policies that prohibit them from playing on community grounds, street gangs, lack of funding and proper equipment, but she manages to hold them together and take them to places even when it seems all is lost. Luma is very strict and hard on the boys but she beleives that it is her rules that make them better. She wants her team to rise above that which is expected of them. If you set the bar high, they will rise to the occaision.

Luma creates a business to employ some of their parents, takes the boys on thier first Halloween trick or treating excursion and helps them find a niche in this very confusing world.

I read that the auther was given a sizable sum for the rights to make his book into an movie and the team got a good donation which no doubt allowed them to create this website:
and hopefully buy some better equipment and battle the city to use the public lands for practice.

My advanced copy did not have an epilogue included, so I hope that when I finally do read the end, there is some good news about the town and the team and some of the boys sad personal tales.

The story, like all of life, had neither a good nor a bad ending. Without spoiling it--it is human and real and makes you want to meet this women and her teams and be a part of the very small fan club (which I would guess is growing) on the sidelines of the soccer matches in Georgia.

I am not a big sports fan, but playing and participating in sports and the thrill of running hard and playing fair is a universal theme. This story, and all parts of it, will draw any reader in. Hats off to Warren St. John for a timeless tale adeptly told. A modern story of love, dedication and beauty.

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