Friday, May 22, 2009

Review: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (April 21, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9780385522038
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 4/5

Clarkston, Georgia, was a typical southern town until it was designated a refugee settlement center in the 1990s, becoming the first American home for scores of families in flight from the world’s war zones. Suddenly its streets were filled with women wearing the hijab, the smells of cumin and curry, and kids of all colors—children of war and displacement—playing soccer in any open space they could find. The town also became home to the charismatic Luma Mufleh, an American-educated woman from Jordan, who founded a youth soccer team made up of Clarkston’s refugee children. They named themselves the Fugees.

Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their coach, against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment. Warren St. John documents the lives of this wildly diverse group of young people as they miraculously coalesce into a band of brothers, while also painting a fascinating picture of a fading American town struggling to make a haven for its new arrivals—and a community of refugees who, in the face of daunting challenges, transform the town.

Before reading Outcast United I never knew a town like Clarkston, Georgia existed. Of course I knew of refugees being relocated to the US, but I never imagined a small southern town being a destination for refugees from all over the world.

Outcasts United is a wonderful story of friendship and hard work centered around a group of refugee children and their soccer teams. Even if you don't have much knowledge of soccer I think most people would find this story interesting and uplifting. Luma, the Fugees coach, gives an amazing amount of time and love to these kids in an effort to make them responsible young men. She comes across as a little harsh sometimes, but surprisingly, never as unlikeable.

Interspersed between the stories of the kid's soccer games are the histories of some of the refugee families. While the stories, nationalities and circumstances are all different, there is the common theme of losing your entire life as you know it, and having to start over in a completely foreign place. Many of the families knew little or no English and most had few marketable job skills. Even with all these challenges, the families profiled are hardworking and are trying to make the best of their new situation.

My one complaint about the book is that the ending is a bit abrupt. I think this is because of the ongoing nature of the story, but if left me wanting more information, which could be a good thing too...

I really enjoyed this touching story and would highly recommend this one to soccer fans, memoir lovers and those interested in refugee stories. 4 stars

Other Reviews:


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I have this one to read and review as well. I really enjoy memoirs so I'm looking forward to it; great review.

Liyana said...

Great review! This looks really interesting.

Liyana said...

Congrats! You have something here.

Bingo said...

Hi, Melissa!
Congratulations! I have an award for you over at BOOKIN' WITH BINGO.
Come by and get it when you can as it will post this evening!

Bingo said...

I loved this book....fabulous review.....and...
Your award is now posted see....


Unknown said...

I don't play any sports, nor do I follow any, but some of my favorite books are about sports. This one sounds very good.

Gaby317 said...

This sounds like such a good book. Thanks for doing the review!

I'd heard about some cities becoming "landing spots" for refugees in my immigration law class, but haven't heard much beyond their existence. I've heard about some former refugees being removed from their teaching jobs because of "accent problems" and have been curious about their experiences. Will definitely look for this book. Thanks!

Zibilee said...

I read about this book, and was interested in it. I stayed away from requesting it because it seemed to have a huge focus on soccer, of which I am not a fan. I am glad to hear it was good though, I will have to try and pick this up. Great review, thanks!