Thursday, April 9, 2009

Outcasts United by Warren St. John (a review)

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town
3 out of 5: Each year, hundreds of refugee families pour into Clarkstown, Georgia, a small town on the outskirts of Atlanta and a designated refugee settlement center. As Clarkstown struggles with its expanding and diverse population, its new residents attempt to adapt to an unfamiliar life in the United States. In Outcasts United, Warren St. John, a New York Times reporter, examines the ongoing cultural clash in Clarkstown through the lens of a soccer team called the Fugees. Luma al-Mufleh, a Jordanian immigrant herself, coaches the Fugees, a team made up of refugee boys and teenagers from Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and other war-ravaged parts of the world. The team becomes a source of stability and discipline for its members, most of whom struggle with traumatic memories and precarious home situations.

St. John deftly mixes the refugees’ personal stories and individual struggles with the larger issues of assimilation faced by the community. At times, however, St. John’s extensive play-by-play commentary of the various soccer matches becomes tedious, particularly because the focus of this book is on the refugees’ prior struggles against tyranny and their adjustment to a new life in America rather than on the outcome of their numerous soccer matches.

Outcasts United ends abruptly and with little sense of resolution. This unsatisfactory ending likely arises out of the ongoing nature of Clarkstown's challenges rather than through any fault of St. John’s, but the book feels unfinished. The book’s brief epilogue does little to mitigate this problem. St. John's account gives us an intimate and worthwhile portrayal of the refugees of Clarkstown but leaves us with little sense of what the future might hold for these refugees or for others in similar circumstances.


bermudaonion said...

This book is in my TBR pile, so I'm sorry to see it's not wrapped up well.

Brenda Van Scoy said...

Of course this book didn't have a wrapped up, tidy, ending. Neither does real life, and this was REAL life.