The extraordinary tale of a refugee youth soccer team and the transformation of a small American town
Clarkston, Georgia, was a typical Southern town until it was designated a refugee settlement center in the 1990s, becoming the first American home for scores of families in flight from the world’s war zones—from Liberia and Sudan to Iraq and Afghanistan. Suddenly Clarkston’s streets were filled with women wearing the hijab, the smells of cumin and curry, and kids of all colors playing soccer in any open space they could find. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to unify Clarkston’ s refugee children and keep them off the streets. These kids named themselves the Fugees.
Set against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment, Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their charismatic coach. Warren St. John documents the lives of a diverse group of young people as they miraculously coalesce into a band of brothers, while also drawing a fascinating portrait of a fading American town struggling to accommodate its new arrivals. At the center of the story is fiery Coach Luma, who relentlessly drives her players to success on the soccer field while holding together their lives—and the lives of their families—in the face of a series of daunting challenges.
This fast-paced chronicle of a single season is a complex and inspiring tale of a small town becoming a global community—and an account of the ingenious and complicated ways we create a home in a changing world.
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The name Luma means “dark lips,” though Hassan and Sawsan al-Mufleh chose it for their first child less because of the shade of her lips than because they liked the sound of the name–short, endearing, and cheerful–in the context of both Arabic and English. The al-Mufl ehs were a wealthy, Westernized family in Amman, Jordan, a teeming city of two million, set among nineteen hills and cooled by a swirl of dry desert breezes. The family made its fortune primarily from making rebar–the metal rods used to strengthen concrete–which it sold across Jordan. Hassan had attended a Quaker school in Lebanon, and then college in the United States at the State University of New York in Oswego–“the same college as Jerry Seinfeld,” he liked to tell people.
Luma’s mother, Sawsan, was emotional and direct, and there was never any doubt about her mood or feelings. Luma, though, took after her father, Hassan, a man who mixed unassailable toughness with a capacity to detach, a combination that seemed designed to keep his emotions hidden for fear of revealing weakness.
“My sister and my dad don’t like people going into them and knowing who they are,” said Inam al-Mufl eh, Luma’s younger sister byeleven years and now a researcher for the Jordanian army in Amman.
“Luma’s very sensitive but she never shows it. She doesn’t want anyone to know where her soft spot is.”
As a child, Luma was doted on by her family, sometimes to an extraordinary degree. At the age of three, Luma idly mentioned to her grandmother that she thought her grandparents’ new Mercedes 450 SL was “beautiful.” The next day, the grandparents’ driver showed up at Hassan and Sawsan al-Mufl eh’s home with a gift: a set of keys to the Mercedes, which, they were told, now belonged to their threeyear-old daughter.
Hassan too doted on his eldest child. He had high expectations for her, and imagined her growing up to fulfi ll the prescribed role of a woman in a prominent Jordanian family. He expected her to marry, to stay close to home, and to honor her family.
From the time Luma was just a young girl, adults around her began to note her quiet confi dence, which was so pronounced that her parents occasionally found themselves at a loss.
“When we would go to the PTA meetings,” Hassan recalled, “they’d ask me, ‘Why are you asking about Luma? She doesn’t need your help.’ ”
Sometimes, Luma’s parents found themselves striving to please their confi dent daughter, rather than the other way around. Hassan recalled that on a family vacation to Spain when Luma was ten or eleven years old, he had ordered a glass of sangria over dinner, in violation of the Muslim prohibition against drinking alcohol. When the drink arrived, Luma began to sob uncontrollably.
“She said, ‘I love my father too much–I don’t want him to go to hell,’ ” Hassan recalled. He asked the waitress to take the sangria away.
“I didn’t drink after that,” he said.
Luma encouraged–or perhaps demanded–that her younger sister, Inam, cultivate self-suffi ciency, often against Inam’s own instincts or wishes.
“She was a tough older sister–very tough love,” Inam said. “She would make me do things that I didn’t want to do. She never wanted me to take the easy way out. And she wouldn’t accept me crying.”
Inam said that she has a particularly vivid memory of her older sister’s tough love in action. The al-Mufl ehs had gathered with their cousins, as they often did on weekends, at the family farm in a rural area called Mahes, half an hour from Amman. Inam, who was just seven or eight at the time, said that Luma took her and a group of young cousins out to a dirt road to get some exercise. The kids set off jogging, with Luma trailing them in the family Range Rover. It was hot and dry and hilly, and one by one, the kids began to complain. But Luma wouldn’t have any of it. She insisted that they keep running.
“She was in the car, and we were running like crazy,” Inam recalled. “Everyone was crying. And if I would cry, she would just look at me.”
That withering look, which Luma would perfect over the years, had the stinging effect of a riding crop. Despite the pain, little Inam kept running.
Luma’s drill-sergeant routine at Mahes became a kind of family legend, recalled to rib Hassan and Sawsan’s firstborn for her tough exterior. The family knew another side of Luma–one that others rarely encountered–that of a sensitive, even sentimental young woman with a deep concern for those she perceived to be weak or defenseless. Luma laughed along with everyone else. She enjoyed a good joke and a well-earned teasing, even at her own expense. But jokes aside, Luma’s tough love had it’s intended effect.
“I wanted to prove to my sister that I could do anything,” she said. “I always remember that my sister pushed me and I found out I was able to do it.”
THE AL-MUFLEHS WERE intent on raising their children with their same cosmopolitan values. They sent Luma to the American Community School in Amman, a school for the children of American expatriates, mostly diplomats and businessmen, and elite Jordanians, including the children of King Hussein and Queen Noor. Luma learned to speak English without an accent–she now speaks like a midwesterner–and met kids from the United States and Europe, as well as the children of diplomats from all over the world.
Luma’s childhood was idyllic by most measures, and certainly by comparison to those of most in Jordan. She went to the best school in Amman and lived at a comfortable distance from the problems of that city, including poverty and the tensions brought on by the infl ux of Palestinian and later Iraqi refugees. But her maternal grandmother, Munawar, made a point of acknowledging and aiding the poor whenever she could. Beggars regularly knocked on her door because they knew that on principle she would always give them alms. And when relatives would tell her she was being taken advantage of because of her generosity, Munawar would brush them off.
“She would say we had an obligation because we were so privileged,” Luma recalled. “And she would say, ‘God judges them, not us.’ ”
Munawar’s home abutted a lot in Amman where young men played soccer in the afternoons. As a kid, Luma would climb a grapevine on the concrete wall behind the house and watch the men play. She eventuallygot the nerve to join in, and she would play until her grandmother saw her and ordered her inside on the grounds that it was improper for a young woman to be around strange men.
“She would have a fi t if she saw me playing soccer with men,” Luma said. “And then she’d say, ‘We are not going to tell your father about this.’ ”
At the American Community School, Luma was free from the strictures of a conservative Muslim society and at liberty to play sports as boys did. She played basketball, volleyball, soccer, and baseball with the same intensity, and stood out to her coaches, particularly an African American woman named Rhonda Brown.
“She was keen to learn,” Brown said. “And no matter what you asked her to do, she did it without questioning why.” Brown, the wife of an American diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Amman, coached volleyball. She had played volleyball in college at Miami University in Ohio and, when she found herself bored in the role of a diplomat’s wife, had volunteered to coach the women’s varsity volleyball team at the ACS. When she showed up to coach, Brown said, she was disappointed at what she found.
“These girls were lazy–incredibly lazy,” she said.
Luma was the notable exception. Though Brown didn’t know much about the Jordanian girl, she noticed her dedication right away and felt she was the kind of player a team could be built around. Coach Brown asked a lot of her players, and especially of Luma. She expected them to be on time to practice, to work hard, to focus, and to improve. She believed in running–lots of running–and drilling to the point of exhaustion. Brown challenged her players by setting an example herself. She was always on time. She was organized. When she asked her players to run fi ve kilometers, she joined them, but with a challenge: “Because you’re younger I expect you to do it better than me,” she told them. “If I beat you, you can expect the worst practices ever.”
“They ran,” Brown said.
Brown’s coaching philosophy was built on the belief that young people craved leadership and structure and at the same time were capable of taking on a tremendous amount of responsibility. She didn’t believe in coddling.
“My feeling is that kids have to have rules,” Brown explained. “They have to know what the boundaries are. And kids want to know what their limits are. It’s important for them to know that people have expectations of them.”
Brown was resigned to the fact that her players might not like her at fi rst. But she took a long view toward their development and their trust in her. She was willing to wait out the hostility until her players broke through.
“I’m stubborn,” Brown said. “I don’t give in a lot. You can come across as mean, and until they see what kind of person you are they might not like you.”
In fact, Luma didn’t like Brown at all. She felt singled out for extra work and didn’t appreciate all the extra running. But she kept her mouth shut and didn’t complain, partly, she said, out of a suspicion that she and her teammates would benefi t from the harsh treatment.
“I knew my teammates were lazy–talented but lazy,” Luma said.
“And part of me was like, Maybe I want the challenge. Maybe these very harsh, very tough practices will work.”
Over time, the practices began to have an effect. The team improved. They were motivated, and even the slackers on the team began working hard. Along the way, Luma started to pick up on a seeming contradiction. Though she told herself she disliked Coach Brown, she wanted desperately to play well for her. “For the majority of the time she coached me, I hated her,” Luma said. “But she had our respect. She didn’t ask us to do anything she wouldn’t do. Until then I’d always played for me. I’d never played for a coach.”
When Luma was in high school and still playing for Coach Brown the junior varsity girls’ soccer team at the American Community School found itself in need of a coach. Luma volunteered. She emulated Brown–putting the team through fi ve days a week of running drills and pushing the young women to work harder and to get better.
Luma loved it. She liked the way the daily problems of the world seemed to recede once she took the field, the subtle psychological strategies one had to employ to get the best out of each player, and most of all the sense of satisfaction that came from forging something new out of disparate elements: an entity with its distinct identity, not a collection of individuals, but a new being, a team. And she wasn’t afraid to admit she also liked being in charge.
But as she got older and accustomed to the liberty she had as a woman at ACS–where she could coach and play sports as she pleased–she began to feel at odds with the Jordanian society in which she had grown up. She wanted to be able to play pickup games of soccer with whoever was around, without regard to gender. She wanted the liberty to be as assertive in her daily life as Coach Brown had taught her to be on the court. Her family’s social status created additional pressure for her to follow a more traditional path. There were obligations, as well as the looming threat that she might be pressured into marrying someone she didn’t love.
“When you come from a family that’s prominent, there are expectations of you,” she said. “And I hated that. It’s a very patriarchal society, and as modern as it is, women are still second-class citizens. I didn’t want to be treated that way.”
Coach Brown picked up on Luma’s yearning. At a team sleepover, the players and coach went around the room predicting where everyone would be in ten years. Coach Brown joked that Luma would be “living illegally in the United States.” Everyone laughed, including Luma. But she disagreed.
“In ten years, I’ll be there legally,” she said.
“I knew from even our brief time together that she wanted something else for her life,” Brown recalled.
Toward the end of Luma’s junior year, she and her parents decided she would attend college in the United States. Hassan and Sawsan wanted their daughter to continue her Western education, a rite of sorts for well-to-do Jordanians. But Luma was more interested in life in the United States than she was in what an education there might do for her in Jordan. “America was the land of opportunity,” she said. “It was a very appealing dream of what you want your life to be like.” Within the family, Luma’s grandmother alone seemed to understand the implications of her going to college in the United States.
“If she moves to America,” Munawar told the family, “there’s a chance she won’t come back.”
Luma’s fi rst trip to the United States came when she enrolled at Hobart and William Smith College, a coed school in the Finger Lakes region of New York, not too far from where her father had gone to college. She played soccer her first fall there, but midway through the season injured a knee, sidelining her for the rest of the year. Luma liked the school well enough, but winter there was colder than anything she had experienced in Amman, and the campus was remote. She wondered if she had made the right choice in going so far from home. Luma decided to look at other schools, and soon visited Smith College, the women’s school in Northampton, Massachusetts.
The campus seemed to perfectly embody the setting Luma had envisioned for herself when she left Jordan for America. It was set in a picturesque New England town with a strong sense of community and security. And as a women’s college, Smith was focused on imbuing its students with the very sort of self-reliance and self-confidence Luma felt she had been deprived of at home. Luma fell in love with the place and transferred for her sophomore year.
At Smith, Luma had what she described as a kind of awakening. She was taken by the presence of so many self-confident, achieving women, and also by the social mobility she saw evident in the student body. Her housemate, for example, was the first in her family to go to college, and there she was at one of the preeminent private colleges in the United States. That would never happen in Jordan, Luma remembered thinking to herself at the time.
Luma’s friends at Smith remember her as outgoing and involved–in intramural soccer and in social events sponsored by the college’s house system. Few understood her background; she spoke English so well that other students she met assumed she was American.
“One day we were hanging out talking about our childhoods and she said, ‘I’m from Jordan,’ ” recalled Misty Wyman, a student from Maine who would become Luma’s best friend. “I thought she’d been born to American parents overseas. It had never occurred to me that she was Jordanian.”
On a trip home to Jordan after her junior year at Smith, Luma realized that she could never feel comfortable living there. Jordan, while a modern Middle Eastern state, was not an easy place for a woman used to Western freedoms. Professional opportunities for women were limited. Under Sharia law, which applied to domestic and inheritance matters, the testimony of two women carried the weight of that from a single man. A wife had to obtain permission from her husband simply to apply for a passport. And so-called honor killings were still viewed leniently in Sharia courts. As a member of a well-known family, Luma felt monitored and pressured to follow a prescribed path. A future in Jordan felt limited, lacking suspense, whereas the United States seemed alluringly full of both uncertainty and possibility.
Before she left to return to Smith for her senior year, Luma sought out friends one by one, and paid a visit to her grandmother. She didn’t tell them that she was saying goodbye exactly, but privately, Luma knew that to be the case.
“When I said goodbye I knew I was saying goodbye to some people I’d never see again,” she said. “I wanted to do it on my own. I wanted to prove to my parents that I didn’t need their help.”
Luma did let on to some of her friends. Rhonda Brown recalled a softball game she and Luma played with a group of American diplomats and expatriates. When the game had finished, Brown went to pick up the leather softball glove she’d brought with her from the United States, but it was gone–stolen, apparently. Brown was furious. She’d had the glove for years, and it was all but impossible to get a softball glove in Jordan at the time. Luma had a glove that she too had had for years. She took it off her hand and gave it to her coach.
“She said, ‘You take this glove,’ ” Brown recalled. “ ‘I won’t need it. I don’t think I’m coming back.’ ”
Brown–who soon moved to Damascus, and later to Israel with her husband and family–lost touch over the years with her star player, but she kept Luma’s glove from one move to the next, as a memento of the mysteriously self-possessed young woman she had once coached. Fifteen years later, she still has it. “The webbing has rotted and come out,” Brown told me from Israel, where I tracked her down by phone. “That glove was very special to me.”
IN JUNE 1997, a few weeks after graduating from Smith, Luma gave her parents the news by telephone: She was staying in the United States–not for a little while, but forever. She had no intention of returning home to Jordan.
Hassan al-Mufleh was devastated.
“I felt as if the earth swallowed me,” he said.
Hassan’s devastation soon gave way to outrage. He believed he had given every opportunity to his daughter. He had sent her to the best schools and had encouraged her to go to college in the United States. He took her decision to make a home in the States as a slap in the face. Luma tried to explain that she felt it was important for her to see if she could support herself without the social and fi nancial safety net her parents provided at home. Hassan would have none of it. If Luma wanted to see how independent she could be, he told her, he was content to help her find out. He let her know that she would be disinherited absolutely if she didn’t return home. Luma didn’t budge. She didn’t feel that she could be herself there, and she was willing to endure a split with her family to live in a place where she could live the life she pleased. Hassan followed through on his word, by cutting Luma off completely–no more money, no more phone calls. He was finished with his daughter.
For Luma, the change in lifestyle was abrupt. In an instant, she was on her own. “I went from being able to walk into any restaurant and store in the United States and buy whatever I wanted to having nothing,” she said.
Luma’s friends remember that period well. They had watched her painful deliberations over when and how to give her parents the news that she wasn’t coming home. And now that she was cut off, they saw their once outgoing friend grow sullen and seem suddenly lost.
“It was very traumatic,” said Misty Wyman, Luma’s friend from Smith. “She was very stressed and sick a lot because of the stress.
“There was a mourning process,” Wyman added. “She was very close to her grandmother, and her grandmother was getting older. She was close to her sister and wasn’t sure that her parents would ever let her sister come to visit her here. And I kind of had the impression from Luma that she had been her father’s pet. Even though he was hard on her, he expected a lot from her. She was giving up a lot by not going home.”
So Luma made do. After graduation, she went to stay with her friend Misty in Highlands, North Carolina, a small resort town in the mountains where Misty had found work. Luma didn’t yet have a permit to work legally in the United States, so she found herself looking for the sorts of jobs available to illegal immigrants, eventually settling on a position washing dishes and cleaning toilets at a local restaurant called the Mountaineer. Luma enjoyed the relative calm and quiet of the mountains, but there were moments during her stint in Appalachia that only served to reinforce her sense of isolation. Concerned that her foreign-sounding name might draw unwelcome attention from locals, Luma’s colleagues at the Mountaineer gave her an innocuous nickname: Liz. The locals remained oblivious of “Liz’s” real background as a Jordanian Muslim, even as they got to know her. A handyman who was a regular at the Mountaineer even sent Liz flowers, and later, sought to impress her by showing off a prized family heirloom: a robe and hood once worn by his grandfather, a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I was so shaken up,” Luma said.
After a summer in Highlands, Luma kicked around aimlessly, moving to Boston then back to North Carolina, with little sense of direction. Her news from home came mostly through her grandmother, who would pass along family gossip, and who encouraged Luma to be strong and patient with her parents. Someday, Munawar said, they would come to forgive her.
But for now, Luma was on her own. In 1999, she decided to move to Atlanta for no other reason than that she liked the weather– eternal-seeming springs and easy autumns, with mercifully short and mild winters–not unlike the weather in Amman. When Luma told her friends of her plan, they were uniformly against it, worried that a Muslim woman from Jordan wouldn’t fi t in down in Dixie.
“I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Misty recalled.
Luma didn’t have much of a retort. She knew next to no one in Atlanta. She had little appreciation for how unusual a Muslim woman with the name Luma Hassan Mufl eh would seem to most southerners, and certainly no inkling of how much more complicated attitudes toward Muslims would become a couple of years into the future, after the attacks on September 11. Luma arrived in Atlanta with little mission or calling. She found a tiny apartment near Decatur, a picturesque and progressive suburb east of Atlanta anchored by an old granite courthouse with grand Corinthian columns. She knew nothing yet about Clarkston, the town just down the road that had been transformed by refugees, people not unlike herself, who had fled certain discontent in one world for uncertain lives in another. But like them, Luma was determined to survive and to make it on her own. Going home wasn’t an option.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
We are always encountered with media spewing forth details of incidents where people's lives have been torn apart due to war, famines, riots or other similar disasters, but seldom do we come across to what happens to those who pass through these incidents and live on. How life changes for them, and how they adapt to newer surroundings. Outcsasts United is a small glimpse into such a realm. The book is primarily situated in Clarkston, a small city close to Atlanta. Clarkston became a refugee settlement centre during the 1990's. Formerly, Clarkston was a stereotypical small town in America. Hence, for the refugees and the town inhabitants, the collision between the cultures erupting into a struggle for their identities is the central theme of the book. The protagonist is Luma Mufleh, a young Jordanian woman from a well-to-do family and finishes ger education in USA. She arrived in Decatur(a neighboring town) and during one of her shopping trips, she stumbled upon a group of young refugees playing football in Clarkston. This leads her to create a small football program in town. Each player in the book has their own distinct background, which is explained in great detail. After going across these disparities, it is not hard for one to understand the distrust between refugee communities and their hosts. Mufleh acts as a mother, friend, translator and mentor to the children and their families. A set of rules was drawn up that all players were expected to adhere to. Disobediences brought exclusion from the team. Having little experience of coaching, she learns from her mistakes. She committed herself to the teams and expected the same in return. The central theme of the book is the way that football unites a group of different people, from completely different backgrounds. Regardless of color, creed or any other denominator, all are welcomed. It is a simple story of how one human can inspire others, and how that helps others to escape whatever domestic ills they might have experienced. The narrative is from the coach's perspective with the children providing a nice counterbalance along the way.
This was an interesting current issues, sociology-based book. Don't let the soccer (football, to us loyalists) title scare you from giving it a try. The more interesting parts of this book are how each of the characters--including the coach-- gets to small-town Georgia. Who knew that the South was such a harbour for refugees?
I read this for my book club, and as part of this year¿s Roanoke Valley Reads program. The program is designed to increase reading and foster a sense of community, and is supplemented with several discussion programs across the valley. This book was a particularly good pick, because like Clarkston, Roanoke is a refugee resettlement community. I had no idea until I read this book.Overall, I thought this book was interesting and well-done. St. John shares with us a variety of refugee experiences, ranging from African civil and tribal wars to the war in Bosnia. Along the way, we learn a little about what started these conflicts, and how the refugees ended up that way. We also learn about a side of small-town politics that I¿m sure the town of Clarkston wishes they didn¿t have.But it¿s not all about taking the side of the refugees over the "natives" of Clarkston. It¿s obvious that the refugee resettlement program has a lot of problems, and many of the problems in Clarkston could have been eliminated if the program was better managed. Other problems are cultural, and are harder to overcome.There¿s a lot of soccer talk in the book, but it¿s easy to understand even for the uninitiated. Several of the people in the book club who didn¿t know anything about soccer said they had no problem following what was going on.The only thing I thought the book was missing was a more well-rounded depiction of Luma. We get a good idea of her background, but eventually she becomes rather one-dimensional. She¿s just "Coach". I can¿t pinpoint exactly what else I would have liked to know, just that there was something missing.Several blog posts about this book and the Roanoke Valley Reads events can be found on the Roanoke Valley Reads web site.
This was an Early Reviewer book for me and definitely had some typos and the like (makes you see why publishers have copy editors), but I really enjoyed the story and my only real complaint was that the Advanced Reader Copy was missing the epilogue. Whatever happened to the Fugees?Anyway, the book looks at a real soccer team (or rather a few in different age groups) in Georgia made up of teenage (male) refugees from different war-torn countries and their (female) coach. It's an uplifting story, but also an interesting look and immigration, integration, and change. I would recommend it.
Outcasts United is the story of the vision and drive of Luma Mufleh an American-educated woman from Jordan who was determined to create an independent life for herself in America ¿ willing to accept the disapproval and disinheritance of her family in Jordan. Luma volunteered to coach a team of refugee children brought together from the world¿s war zones and resettled in Clarkston, Georgia. They call themselves The Fugees. Luma¿s amazing work ethic and vision of what The Fugees¿ soccer program might accomplish drives this story ¿ her tough love approach to coaching allows her talented charges to accomplish the wonderful results seen as the story advances.St. John skillfully weaves the individual stories of the refugee families that make up The Fugees, from the violence of Afghanistan to the horror of Bosnia and Sudan, and brings them together into the not quite open arms of Clarkston, Georgia. The difficulties faced by the families with assimilation and adaptation are sympathetically told. Obstinancy and indifference seem to be the hallmark of this vision of the southern small town ¿ perhaps too easily stereotyped in the characterization of the local mayor and town council.What is most illuminating about the book is just seeing what a diverse, chaotic, terrifying world we all live in. What most of these boys had to endure, how closed and mean those in power in the South still seems to be and how, in spite of it all, there are people who rise and face the challenges in front of them, pulling along all who are smart and determined enough to follow her lead.In the end, this is really a book about Luma, and she's really quite amazing!
I requested it because I was interested in the juxtaposition of a homogeneous American town with a large refugee population. What was in my library that matched me with this book? I have utterly no idea. But it ended up being an excellent match.I am so NOT a sports person. In fact, I have zero clue about soccer, absolutely loathe football, and the only organized team sport I know anything about is baseball. Despite that I had no difficulty reading the book even with the inclusion of soccer plays.In any event, I finished the book this evening and I'm very grateful to LTER and Random House for sending it to me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and, even though I skimmed a lot of the soccer descriptions, I took a lot from this book. Both about the immigrant experience and about the histories of the countries from which these kids hailed. I was/am woefully ignorant about that.Near the end of the book one of the kids comments that most Americans look through him and seem afraid or uncomfortable getting to know him. I'm appalled and ashamed to admit that I'm pretty much like that. I'm not opposed to immigration, per se, I just don't quite know how to deal with it. (And I have a really, really tough time with most Asian accents which makes me less willing to attempt to communicate.)This book has given me a different outlook and hopefully will make me a better person.
This is a touching book, and one worth reading, but which should also be approached for what it is: an at length news account that, in all honesty, often reads more like a newspaper than a book you'd pick up to read in a few sittings. That said, I read this in a few sittings, and you may also. The author has to be given credit for knowing that the power of his story would come with the individuals bound up in the story, and with the events, not with any overly dramatic writing or suspense. Even for me, a person who knows little of sports in general and Nothing of soccer (until reading this book), the book was powerful, easy to follow, and worthwhile. It gives an in depth and honest look at the refugee situation in one portion of America, that is certainly true to other communities dealing with many of the same issues. The attention to interaction in the community, faults, failures, and successes, along with the individuals who had a stake in all of the events, makes the book come together into a solid readable history of a soccer team of refugees from too many different countries to list here. Throughout the book, the account is straightforward, and St. John does a good job of centering in on a few particular characters to recenter on as the book moves---this might not be necessary for the story to get told, but it is necessary to hold the book together as more than a long news story. My only complaints are minor, really. First, I'd like a few pictures. That may sound silly or unnecessary considering the descriptions of the characters and community, but considering the nature of St. John's project, I think even a few pictures would have helped this really strike readers as a memorable book worth passing on repeatedly. My second criticism is the ending. I understand that the epilogue was written as late as possible to contain as much as possible, and so wasn't included in Advanced Reader Editions, but even so, with or without the epilogue, the ending is incredibly jarring. Even a few more sentences before his dramatic wrap-up would have done wonders for the way I felt upon exiting the book. That's to do with his style though, not the story.In general, I'd recommend this for anyone interested or involved in youth sports, soccer, diversity, or the situation of refugees in America. It's readable, powerful, and worthwhile if you have any interest that brings you the way of this book. I also think it would be really worthwhile for kids to read, though I'm still pondering what age group I'd set it toward--perhaps not until ninth or tenth grade. It's a powerful book, though, and one which gives a beautiful look into what America can be, and sometimes is, along with the shortcomings that make that vision sometimes difficult to approach. In the end? I recommend this book.If you did get this book in advanced reader form, though, take the time to look up the epilogue on the random house website--there's also a link posted in the early reviewers group under the Outcasts United thread.
I enjoyed "Outcasts United," but I felt as if it were incomplete. Since this was a proof, the afterward wasn't included. I think that would've helped. But I also wish we had gotten to know the characters better. I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. Maybe I was just hoping for the thrilling victory at the end that didn't happen.
I plan to purchase several copies of Outcasts United by Warren St. John so I can pass them on to others. It's that good. Clarkston, Georgia was a typical small American town until it became a resettlement site for thousands of the world's refugees. The book describes how one woman created a soccer program for children from the war zones of the world. It also explores how community members reacted to their changing reality, some with creativity and compassion, others with suspicion and fear. The stories of the refugee families and how they came to call a small American town, "home," are both moving and inspiring. In this time of change for our country and indeed, much of the world, this book offers a challenge to embrace a new kind of "normal." I was inspired to seek out and volunteer in a local refugee agency after reading this book.
If you want to read about kids, soccer, politics, refugees, acceptance, courage, and discipline all in one book, then here is an excellent selection. I found "Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town", by Warren St. John, to be an outstanding book. St. John's writing style immediately engages the reader on multiple levels. He weaves in and out and around the intimate details of the individual and the macro-level sociopolitical issues of many different nations, and he does each with dexterity and grace. The people whose lives St. John chronicles are heartwarming, infuriating, and inspirational all at once. From Luma, the coach who insists on a perfect balance of nurturing and discipline, to the players trying to find their place in and between two vastly disparate worlds, to the townspeople struggling to redefine their personal and community identities, the reader becomes deeply involved with one and all. I found myself rooting not only for the Fugees, but for the slightly behind the times Mayor of Clarkston, and the entire town, because they epitomize the future of the United States and I want it to work. I think every American should read this book and decide to change with the times rather than to opt out of dealing with the times as they are destined to be.
"Outcasts United" is at once three stories: the story of atrocities survived by refugees in their homelands, the story of their precarious assimilation into the small, homogenous town of Clarkson, Georgia, whose residents react in varied ways to the newcomers, and the story of the Fugees, the youth soccer team who provided these refugee boys with a place to belong. It's no small task to balance these three different threads and weave them into a coherent whole, and Warren St. John does a beautiful job, rendering a book that leaves the reader both educated and uplifted.The story chronicles the development of the Fugees, from the moment they are first pulled together by their tough, no nonsense Jordanian coach, Luma, to their participation in tournaments. The team faces the challenges of any other soccer team, along with additional challenges: lack of funding, no field of their own on which to play (they are met with resistance by the town when trying to use public fields for practice), and team members who are suffering from posttraumatic stress and profound grief. The reader roots for this team from the beginning, laughs and cries with them. A wonderful true story that is highly recommended.
St. John's book, while at times in need of a good editor to eliminate some redundancy, is nonetheless a genuinely compelling read which makes even the most casual soccer fan feel edgy while observing the Fugees' games vicariously. St. John does an excellent job of demonstrating both the injustice of the young refugees; treatment in Clarkston and the simultaneous small triumphs they experience, mediated mainly through their rather taciturn soccer coach, Luma. Although at times harsh and demanding, Luma nevertheless is drawn to be a genuinely caring individual, deeply entrenched in the community's needs, as well as these kids who depend on her so much. Although the book was made to focus primarily on the kids, I was tantalized by the mention of other kinds of aid Luma offered the community of Clarkston--the small favors, the Second Chance cleaning shop she ran--and, by the end, I was moved by Luma's story.Sometimes the organization of the story seems a bit stilted, with St. John attempting to stuff the massive history of the refugee's home countries into just a few pages, and at times the vignettes tend to wander rather than showing real growth among the players, until the last 100 pages or so. However, I'm confident most of this will be removed by editing by the publication date, and overall, the quality of the writing and the story is very high--the book takes the traditional American "underdog sports team" story and reinvents it in the wake of globalization.
¿"Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (from "The New Colosus" by Emma Lazarus, written in 1883; engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the Statue of Liberty, 1903.)Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town, is the compelling story of a diverse hodge-podge of some of the world's most "tired, poor, tempest-tost" youngsters ever to start new lives in the United States. Relocated from their violence-ruined homelands to a small, quiet suburb of Atlanta, the self-named "Fugees" find unexpected succor in the discipline and dedication of soccer training and competition.Before reading it, I was a little afraid that Outcasts United would be another namby-pamby story of misfits who find society's recognition and peers' appreciation by their performance as a sports team, a là Disney. I am so glad to be wrong!Author Warren St. John weaves the complicated stories of the refugees, their families, their phenomenal coach, and the town of Clarkston, Georgia into a compelling and thought-provoking narrative. Skillfully backtracking from present day problems of adaptation and assimilation, we are given the harrowing personal stories of the team members and their families. Almost every boy is a survivor of tribal warfare or outright genocide. Their stories are similar to the horrifying accounts in Daoud Hari's The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur and Alphonsion Deng's They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan and Dave Eggers's What is the What. In Outcasts, the author's journalistic style assembles some very powerful synopses of modern African history and current events. For me, this was one of the most useful and informative parts of the book.There would have been no Fugees team, and likely no organized soccer at all for the refugees, were it not for the trajectory that brought their incredible coach from Jordan, via Smith College¿a woman of Muslim heritage and western education who was determined to create an independent life. Her personal story could be a book in itself. Her dedication and tough love approach to coaching, her perseverance and hard work, her intelligence and humanity, show us that real heroism is made more of hard work than anything else.Recommended heartily to all readers, but especially to educators and community leaders.
For me, a successful book is one that makes you want to do something. Maybe that something is read another book by the author, or learn more about the subject matter. In the case of Outcasts United, it makes me want to be more involved in my community. I really enjoyed this book, with its vivid cast of characters and underdog mentality. I found myself rooting for the refugee kids and their incredible coach both on the field and off.
Clarkston, Georgia, the setting for this fast-paced and entertaining book by The New York Times reporter Warren St. John, is only 10 miles west of downtown Atlanta, yet it seems further away from that, in distance and time. It is a town I'm quite familiar with, having worked in a pediatrician's office there for two afternoons a week during my final year of residency training. However, the average resident of the Atlanta metropolitan area wouldn't have the slightest idea how to get there. As you approach the city from Atlanta on East Ponce De Leon Avenue it looks like a small sleepy Southern town, with cracked two lane roads traveled by working class whites and blacks, the frequent mournful whistle of freight trains, and storefronts that seem to be frozen in the 1940s. However, as you head toward downtown Clarkston, you are surprised to see people in decidedly non-Western garb walking on the dirt-covered paths along the roads. These people were relocated to Clarkston by US government relief agencies, starting in the mid 1990s, from war torn lands such as Liberia, Kosovo, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia.Those of you who have read Dave Eggers' "novel" What Is the What may recognize Clarkston as the town that the Sudanese narrator is placed after he is transported from a refugee camp in Africa.Outcasts United is the story of three youth soccer teams, called the Fugees, who come from the refugee community in Clarkston. Their coach is Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman, who lives in nearby Decatur and gets the idea to form the Fugees after seeing a group of kids playing an impromptu game of soccer as she is driving through Clarkston. Mufleh somehow keeps these teams going, almost singlehandedly, and despite opposition from the older residents of the town and its obstructionist mayor, lack of support from incompetent bureaucrats of the local YMCA, and the struggles that she and her charges face.However, the true heroes of this story are the kids, who range in age from 10-16, most of whom have seen death and suffering both in their home countries and in the US, whose parents are engaged in a daily struggle to survive. The teammates become family members, despite their different backgrounds and languages, and Mufleh is a source of stability of comfort that most of the kids do not have at home.I highly recommend this book, as it is an inspiring and delightful story told by a gifted writer.
This is the book everyone needs to read! The current inflow of refugees from the many troubled parts of the world, and the decision to put them into fading neighborhoods bunched up together, deny them the support systems that have been available to refugees in some other times. Although I imagine that flood of immigration (Irish, Italians, Jews) in earlier times had some of the same sorts of difficulties. But now, the immigrants are apt to be much more traumatized (think Rwanda, the Lost Boys of Sudan, etc.) and the neighborhoods, with their churning mobility and working moms don't offer the same clearcut mores to adopt.This is the fascinating story of what happened when a young woman emigre from Jordan remained in America against her family's wishes and wound up coaching several age-defined soccer teams. There were tutoring and homework practice as well as running and other exercises. She had to fight the distrust and opposition of the local authorities as well. Such is the quality of her personhood that she has transformed life for many of the boys she worked with and made a huge difference (although not a fairytale one) in her community.Written with love and understanding by a reporter who followed the story and interviewed many of the participants. The details and quotations are beautifully selected/ The book is written with an economy that tells you enough, but leaves you wanting more. Get it, read it, live it!
Warren St. John has written a terrific book tracing the lives of young refugees and the town they live in confronting a time of uncertainty, migration, and globalization. The focal point of the story are the various refugee soccer teams coached by Luma Mufleh. Soccer provides a point for integration, safety, and validation for many of the children, and St. John crisply writes about their various soccer matches. Luma's ceaseless advocacy and work for her teams is admirable. Her discipline is at times, too harsh, but the love for her charges, and their admiration for her practically radiates off of the pages. Intersperesed throughout the main narrative are the stories of the refugees themselves and the circumstances that brought them to the United States. These breaks from the main story were harrowing and potential eye-openers for people unaware of some of the experiences refugees face. My favorite aspects of the story are when St. John discusses how the town of Clarkson reacts to becoming a major refugee resettlement center. He balances the difficulties residents face with the opportunities some have gained, and paints a picture of a changing country. I always enjoy reading about globalization and its effects, but rarely is my view turned inwards. I also enjoy reading about immigrants and their stories about adapting while attempting to maintain a sense of their own identities. St. John addresses this as well, but focuses on the creation of new identities, especially a 'global' one as created through the Fugees team or through the changing businesses of Clarkson. This book was an incredibly quick and easy read. It's a glimpse into an issue and without being saccharine, it is a nice, reader's digest type story. I think it would make a great book for high school or middle school reading groups, or young adults interested in soccer.
Warren St. John has so warmly captured the story of the Fugees, the youth soccer teams composed of players that had been refugees from war-torn countries within Africa, Asia, and Europe. Luma, a young Jordanian woman who defied her parents by leaving Jordan is their coach. Dealing with poverty, low income, neighborhood crime, inability to understand English or American customs, the refugee residents of Clarkston, a small town outside of Atlanta, face many obstacles in their adaptation to life in the United States. Even for Luma, who deals with with town hall, the mayor, the southern white population, and affluent opponent teams, getting what she wants for her soccer players proves to be quite a challenge. Luma takes the sons of some of these families under her wing by providing not only soccer training, tutoring, and personal family help, but also becoming a source of inspiration to her soccer players thereby inducing them to have a cause, work for that cause, and learn to appreciate the differences in one another.I was really taken by this story if only because it is the way I¿d like to see the real world operate. I like the thought that each of us has a part to play in making this a better world. Luma feels that she is no hero, but she certainly is a template or a source of inspiration. This is not a story about winning or losing, but one of hope. Reading the story, it is good if one has a sense of how soccer is played because the text does have quite a bit of play-by-play action of soccer games. If soccer is not your thing, however, then lightly skip through these and read the real story ¿ the one that shows us how we must all work together in a diverse world to get along.
Outcasts United is not just a story about a refugee soccer team that makes good. It's also tells the personal stories of the refugees and tells about the town in which they've been relocated. I enjoyed the way the author intermixed the personal stories of the players in with his description of the team and the coaches. This book does a great job describing the clash of cultures between the community and the team. Warren St. John has a clear writing style that is easy to read. The way that he describes a soccer game made it easy for me to visualize it in my head. Outcasts United offers a clear and honest look at the conditions that cause people to seek refuge in the United States and the challenges that they face when trying to assimilate into their new community.
At first glance, Warren St. Johns¿s Outcasts United promises little more than a Mighty Ducks-meets-The Kite Runner kind of feel-good tale. I have no doubt that Random House will sell plenty of copies of this book, and well they should. Outcasts United ought to easily replace Michael Bamberger¿s Wonderland on the reading lists of mostly-white suburban high school and middle school English classes. Maybe it takes an easily-read and -digested tale about underdogs and sports, with a compelling heroine at the center, set in the Deep South to remind kids and their parents that refugees exist in the United States.St. Johns does some things well in this tale. He avoids syrupy-sweet pathetic appeals, and his journalistic point of view helps him do so. When one of the wannabe Fugees is shot in the face in an act of gang violence, St. Johns avoids pathos with the skill of a New York Times-caliber journalist, presenting facts without overkill. In Luma, he¿s depicted a powerful, memorable figure who should be any woman¿s role model. She¿s compelling and fiercely strong, and someone a reader really wants to meet. St. Johns has also depicted Clarkston in a vivid, real way¿any white small-town Southerner could easily recognize their own hometown in his descriptions of xenophobia and its consequences.However, a discerning reader might wonder if this book¿s not a little *too* easy, a little too pat. While St. Johns is clearly writing for a wide audience, to include middle schoolers, parents, and PG moviegoers alike, the descriptions of fled violence in places like Africa and Eastern Europe are a little anemic¿and the refugees¿ problems too easily solved by soccer, Thriftown, and Luma¿s cleaning company. The book indulges a bit much in Disney-style feel-goodery, and one can almost envision the Jonas brothers playing the Bosnian Fugees, with Parminder Nagra of Bend it Like Beckham fame as Luma. Everyone would leave the theater happy. Right?Wrong. This reader isn¿t sure where the book leads us, as readers, and whether it encourages us to truly engage in a consideration of the refugee experience in the United States. Even a 15-year-old might be better served by an encounter with Dave Eggers¿s What is the What--itself hyper-publicized, but containing a much more gritty, combative look at the Lost Boys and their plight. Perhaps it¿s a cynical view of a sweetly entertaining, informative book, but Outcasts United should serve as appetizer or dessert to those who want to learn more about refugees in America.
After reading "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer," Warren St. John's previous book detailing the personalities who follow the Alabama football team in their RVs during football season, I was looking forward to "Outcasts United." I anticipated another examination of the intersection of personal stories, cultural attitudes, and sport.In this, I was not disappointed. "Outcasts United" does an admirable job of getting at the larger story surrounding a young soccer coach and her team of refugee players in Clarkston, Georgia. The boys' backgrounds of ethnic struggle, the reactions of a town once lily-white now coping with floods of refugee resettlement, the dangers posed by American gangs and violence... all detailed with the research and perspective that one would expect from a New York Times reporter.But overall, I was slightly let down. For all the amassing of dates and details, I was left wanting something. Wanting to know more about the boys (epilogue not withstanding), more about Luna... the book felt like a mass of reportage lacking, well, a point. Following through a season (roughly, with previous seasons for build-up), which worked so well in "Rammer Jammer," didn't yield the same story arc. Whether the epilogue should have been given the time and attention to become a few more actual chapters for closure, or whether the narrative should have focused even more closely on fewer boys, or whether there just is no real arc to be sketched, the story seemed oddly jumpy at times, and incomplete.That aside, there are passages that capture the joy and intensity of youth soccer, the fear and strangeness of refugee life, the clash between cultures and how that clash is at once resolved and never to be resolved. "Outcasts" is ultimately worth the reading, and its themes are certainly worth discussing. And St. John's byline is always worth watching for on the daily pages.
Clarkston, Georgia: an Atlanta suburb, and a resettlement community for thousands of refugees from some of the most war-torn parts of the world. Outcasts United is the story of a youth soccer team (three teams, really) comprised of Clarkston's newest young residents. The teams, the Fugees, face nearly insurmountable odds. The players and their families have found themselves torn from home, in a foreign environment, with few resources. Backbreaking work schedules, few resources, and shell shock all haunt the resettled families of Clarkston. But many of the children from these families share a love of soccer. Under the direction of a dedicated coach, Luma Mufleh, a Jordanian woman looking to find her niche in the United States, the Fugees create a team, against seemingly insurmountable odds. The Fugees lack equipment and practice space, they also face significant opposition from the longtime residents of Clarkston, including the mayor and city council. Clarkston is clearly a town in transition, and one that is having a hard time handling that transition. In telling the story of Clarkston and the Fugees, St. John has crafted an engaging narrative that wraps hope and seeming hoplessness into a story in which its nearly impossible to not root for the kids. Throughout the book St. John remains sympathetic to all of the parties in the book. It's easy to cheer on the kids; the longtime residents of Clarkston are less sympathetic. Still, St. John does an admirable job of trying to understand the myriad of problems Clarkston's mayor, in particular, tries to manage as he deals with a growing population with diverse needs. This is a story about a community, but it is also important to note that this is a story about a soccer team too. For those who are not terribly interested in soccer (such as myself), I did find there to be quite a bit of discussion of the sport- the plays manuevers used during the games. This I did not care for quite as much, and found myself thumbing forward a few pages for most of the in-depth discussions of gametime. That said, there is still much here to interest the general reader of literary non-fiction. I was taken with the Fugees' story, and I am certain many other readers will be too.
Wow! This was an amazing book. St. John followed a season with the Fugees soccer teams in Clarkston, Georgia. What makes the Fugees teams different from the usual kid soccer teams elsewhere in suburban Atlanta and around the country is that all the kids on the teams are refugees from war torn nations around the world who have been relocated to southern Clarkston. St. John focuses not only on the kids, roughly middle school aged, but on their families, histories, their unique coach, and on the rapidly changing face of the town of Clarkston. He weaves all of this together seamlessly, presenting a compelling story of the difficulties the refugees present to a town mired in its sleepy past, the escape that a seriously underfunded and ignored soccer program can offer to children who have seen and survived the worst that fellow human beings have to offer, and how the two things can come together: in conflict or in harmony. The personal histories here are completely horrific and engrossing. Coach Luma is inspiring. And the road blocks thrown up by the town for no good reason are infuriating. But St. John doesn't present shy away from the troubles that have visited the town with the huge influx of refugees. And he doesn't portray Mufleh, the female Jordanian coach volunteering her time, as without flaws. He tries to be fairly balanced, detailing ways in which the town has adapted and grown and made the advent of so many international peoples a positive one even as he highlights short-sightedness on the part of others in town. A definite challenge, one that was well done and kept me reading long past when the light should have been turned off, I would recommend this to anyone interested in narrative non-fiction.
Outcasts United is the story of Luma Mufleh and her journey into the lives of young refugee boys banned together by the love of soccer. Mr. St. John takes the reader to war torn countries all over the world. He shows the struggles of the people and what eventually leads them to a small town in Georgia named Clarkston. Being in an unfamiliar place with bizarre customs and language, the resettled refugees, many who are single mothers, begin the daunting task of finding work to provide for their families. Most can only land jobs with extremely long hours which leaves their children home alone. Through soccer, the boys who call themselves the Fugees, find safety and an extended family. Through the eyes of the boys and their families you become familiar with their struggles and desires. Even though we speak different languages and have different customs we truly long for the same things; safety for our families, freedom from fear, food on the table and a place to belong.On a personal note, I live in north Atlanta. I have had the priveledge of working with one of the organizations in the book (World Relief) and with two Somaili Bantu families. I do not think that Mr. St. John fairly portrayed Atlanta and the suburbs to the north of the city. He made us seem simple minded and backwoods. I am aware of Clarkstons unrest and YES alot of times refugees are dealt with unfairly. That's what happens when you mix ANY type of people group together and ask them both to change. Not all Americans believe America should be so open and they act out. You can't judge everyone by a few hard heads! Mr. St. John barely mentioned all the good things and hands extended by the people of Clarkston and Atlanta. He also made sure to point out every time the Fugees played another team that he would list the name of the city followed by "an almost all-white community". Unnecessary. It took away from the book and I think he would have had a better story if he had just stuck with the stories of the families which on their own were remarkable.
An inspiring account of 3 teen soccer teams comprised solely of refugees who come together in a small town in Southern Georgia. The author, Warren St John, does an admirable job of relaying the various obstacles that face these teenagers and their families when they immigrate to the US, as well as providing broad backgrounds about the history of violence and dislocation that caused their immigration in the first place.My favorite parts of the story included the segments that illustrate how the game (and the Fugee's unlikely female coach) enable these new arrivals to peacefully co-exist -- both on the field and off -- even when these players originated from countries/religious groups that battled each other in the past. Another plus is St John's description of how the different town residents and organizations have adapted to the rapid change in their regional demographics. Being an advance reading copy/draft, the narrative is understandably rough, but the organization of the account is smooth and cohesive. Final editing will likely smooth over the minor rough spots. One area I think could use some additional scrutiny is the repetition of the details used to personalize the story (e.g., I didn't need to read about Luma's Smith baseball cap quite so many times), but otherwise it is an enjoyable and thought provoking story that I expect will have broad appeal to a wide international audience including relief/aid workers, immigrants, politicians, soccer fans, sociologists, social workers, politicians, urban planners, clergy and assorted others.