I have had the good fortune of reading two really fabulous non-fiction books in a row. The first, Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, chronicles the lives of six North Koreans. Just yesterday I finished Outcasts United by Warren St. John, a book I had read about on Book Love. St. John's book chronicles the lives of a soccer team of refugees in the small Georgia town of Clarkston. Clarkston's population has shifted dramatically over the past decade. A town of mostly white Americans, it was designated as a refugee settlement center, and is now the home to refugees fro many different countries.
St. John begins by introducing us to the coach of the Fugees, Luma Mufleh. Mufleh grew up in Jordan as part of an affluent family. She moved to the United States to attend college and never returned home. After a few career moves, Luma settles in Clarkston and finds a family of sorts in the boys she coaches and their families. Luma also finds that the feeling she gets from helping these families supercedes the way she would feel if she accumulated wealth and possessions.
St. John introduces us to the various team members of the Fugees. Each one has had much to overcome, having left their home country and trying to find a new home and way to fit in in Clarkston. Money is always an issue and many of these children are forced to grow up before they should have to. However, Luma does not baby her boys-knowing that will not serve them well. Instead, she expects a great deal from her team. Her team faces many other teams that have expensive equipment, good practice facility and loyal fans. Luma's team struggles for everything they have.
Especially interesting to me was the reaction by the mayor of Clarkston, who seemed to have every intention of finding ways to thwart the Fugees' attempt to practice and better themselves. So, too, the law enforcement needed to be educated in practicing some compassion when dealing with people who have never had to know or understand the United States' legal system or its many laws and regulations.
Teaching in a very diverse school, I could see my students in the stories of these soccer players and their parents. The struggles that Luma's team faced seem to be common for refugees who are forced out of their homes and into new and unfamiliar situations. The way Clarkston dealt with these refugees also seems to represent what happens in many situations.
St. John's book was interesting and uplifting, showing how one person can help make a difference in many lives. I am struggling now to come up with a book to read that can even come close to this one. Katie from Book Love said this book was one of the best non-fiction books she had read this year. I agree with her - I will be hunting for a while to find another book that measures up.