Warren St. John

It’s easy to talk about tolerance and world understanding when the most exotic opponents your kids face on the soccer pitch hail from the Sammamish Plateau. But when your children get trounced by refugees from Sudan, Bosnia, Liberia, and Afghanistan, how will you dry their angry little tears? Football is the world’s game, as we’re reminded in Outcasts United (Spiegel & Grau, $27), which follows a few season in the exurban pee-wee soccer leagues of exurban Atlanta. Our government’s immigration authorities chose one small town there to resettle the disparate victims of genocide, famine, and ethnic cleansing. And the town mayor didn’t take kindly when a YMCA soccer coach organized “the Fugees” and asked to practice in a park where Little League baseball had long disappeared. America is changing. And soccer is the lens for Warren St. John, building on his original New York Times stories, to document that change. Each disadvantaged, underdog kid on the team has a story from his unhappy homeland, and St. John provides snapshot history lesson for each conflict and diaspora. But the predominantly poor, white residents of Clarkston, Georgia don’t read The New York Times. (Soon after his stories appeared, St. John got a book and movie deal, and the Fugees got a Nike deal.) And you can’t attribute all the locals’ soccer phobia to racism; though it doesn’t help that the Fugees’ stubborn, tough-love coach, Luma Mufleh, is a conspicuously single Smith-educated Jordanian immigrant woman, a non-practicing Muslim. St. John sells the story of the Fugees as one of uplift and inspiration, hence his subtitle—“A Refugee Team, An American Dream.” But as his book makes powerfully clear, that dream often requires us fortunate Americans to lend a hand. BRIAN MILLER

Wed., May 13, 7 p.m., 2009

 
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