*** About the Book ***
The full title of this book is Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference.
Around the world people are being pushed out of their homes by war and famine. Millions of people live in refugee camps and rely on the thin hope that they will be given the chance to emigrate to a safer place. The southern American town of Clarkston, Georgia is meant to be one of those safer places; hundreds of refugees from over 50 countries have been resettled there over the past ten years. The social dynamics of this 1.1 square mile town have changed in drastic ways and the original residents do not always welcome those changes.
Despite being different races and nationalities and speaking many different languages, there is one thing the refugee children in Clarkston have in common: soccer. When Jordanian immigrant Luma Mufleh sees the boys playing in a vacant lot one day, she impulsively volunteers to make them into a team.
This book tells the story of an immigrant woman and an oddly matched group of refugee boys and the way that together they are making a new life for themselves.
To get a better idea of this book, check out this video of the author:
*** Why I Read It ***
I first heard about this book at 5 Minutes for Books last summer and I put it on my TBR list then. When it was chosen as the 2010 One Maryland One Book I knew I’d read it this year. A few months back Alyce @ At Home With Books volunteered to send me her review copy – yay! I finally read it this month because the author is speaking at the Baltimore Book Festival (on 9/26) and I hope to see him there.
*** My Thoughts ***
This is exactly the combination of history and “story” that I most enjoy – I loved it!
The author intertwines a variety of stories to form this book. He looks at the town of Clarkston itself and how it has developed and changed over the years. He examines the refugee aid organizations, exposing their weaknesses while showing the determination and heart of many employees. The stories of individual refugee families are recounted and they exemplify the plight of all the refugees. Townspeople who have adapted to the refugee population and those who have not both get their say. These stories, like threads, come together to form the complex pattern that is Clarkston today.
The story focuses on the soccer team created by Luma Mufleh. Her efforts to make the boys into a coherent team despite their tremendous differences meet with varying degrees of success, just as the town’s efforts to adapt to the refugee population do. Luma’s battle with the mayor for a home field for her team mirrors the refugees’ battle to create a new home in Clarkston.
St. John’s background as a journalist is apparent in his writing style; each chapter reads almost like a separate article. For the most part this is a successful format, but there were times when it felt a bit disjointed. I was reading an ARC* though, so there is a chance that additional edits may have smoothed things out.
One thing that would have made this book better is the addition of phonetic spellings of the African and Middle Eastern names, either in the text or in an appendix at the back of the book. I hate not knowing how a name is supposed to be pronounced. One example that comes to mind is the name Kanue. Is is pronounced like the word canoe? Or KAN-oo? Or kan-OO-eh? I have no idea, and this kind of thing is distracting to me. It didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the book though; it's more of a pet peeve of mine.
I truly enjoyed this book and I didn’t want to stop reading it. I was so excited to get to the end and see that there was an epilogue! I couldn’t wait to find out what was currently happening in Clarkston, and with the boys on the team, and with their coach. I excitedly turned the page and .... nothing. The epilogue hadn't been written when the ARC was printed! NOOOOooooooo! So now I'm on the hunt for a final edition of the book so I can learn what happened to everyone in the end.
UPDATE (10/25/10): I finally had a chance to read the epilogue! Check out my brief thoughts here.
*** Your Thoughts ***
Were you aware that a town in Georgia has basically become "refugee central"? What are your thoughts on this? How do you think your town would adapt to a sudden influx of refugees from various places?
Does your town/city/state do a "one book" program? What books have they chosen recently?
* For those unfamiliar with this term, ARC means Advanced Readers Copy. It is a version of the book sent to reviewers before final edits are made.