Outcasts United: A Refugee Soccer Team, An American Town

Books

April 21, 2009

By Warren St. John

Spiegel & Grau/307 pages/$24.95

You can read this book or wait for the movie, but the book is worth the effort. This story is too textured, too filled with layers of light and dark, for Hollywood to capture its complexity.

In January 2007, New York Times reporter Warren St. John wrote about the Fugees, a team of soccer-playing misfits from a dozen war-ravaged countries transplanted to the small Georgia town of Clarkston. The article prompted a huge response - tons of donated cash and equipment, plus a book contract for St. John and a movie deal that financed a team bus and a new school, the Fugees Academy.

The film will undoubtedly portray the Fugees' extraordinary coach, Luma Mufleh, a native of Jordan, as a tough-but-tender soul who forges an adorable multiracial group of young athletes into a cohesive unit and teaches them the Meaning of Life and the Joys of Diversity. And it's all true. Watch for the scene when two players say pre-game prayers in their own languages.

But the book also conveys the larger context in which these kids play games. No movie could fully evoke the emotional damage inflicted on families driven from their homelands by boundless brutality. The refugees of Clarkston were uprooted against their will. "There's no point in thinking about where to go back to," said Paula Balegamire, whose husband languished in a Congolese prison, "because there's nowhere to go back to."

Steven V. Roberts, The Washington Post

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