Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This book is about a soccer team, but it's not about Manchester United or Real Madrid. Outcasts United stars the Fugees, three squads of young players who share two things: a new hometown (Clarkston, Georgia) and a horrendous past. All the Fugees are refugees, survivors of frightening experiences in faraway places: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Burundi, Congo, Gambia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan. Youthful and relatively inexperienced, this spunky squad doesn't seem destined for World Cup greatness, but you might have heard about them before: In 2007, Warren St. John, the author of book, wrote a front-page New York Times article about them that generated a response that eventually blossomed into this poignant, inspiring book.
From the Publisher
"Not merely about soccer, St. John's book teaches readers about the social and economic difficulties of adapting to a new culture and the challenges facing a town with a new and disparate population. Despite their cultural and religious differences and the difficulty of adaptation, the Fugees came together to play soccer. This wonderful, poignant book is highly recommended..."
Library Journal, starred review

A "richly detailed, uplifting account of a young Jordanian immigrant who created a soccer program in Georgia for young refugees from war-torn nations . . . educational and enriching."
– Kirkus Reviews

"St. John hits a trifecta . . . A fascinating and fast-moving account of big-picture politics, small-town sports, and some very memorable people."
–Booklist

"Inspiring...richly detailed...Deeply satisfying...a bighearted book."
–Shelf Awareness

"As St. John tells it, the Fugees’ story is something of a radical social experiment: a test case in 21st-century immigration and identity politics. But it’s also a deeply moving example of what men and women of goodwill can do."
–Very Short List

“A brilliant and empathetic depiction of our common quest for meaning and happiness. Warren St. John invites us into the lives of a community of refugees, their bewildered neighbors in a small town, and a Jordanian woman who not only coaches but also mentors, mothers, and inspires some remarkable boys, to create a heartwarming tale about the transformations that occur when our disparate lives connect.”
–Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone

Truly unforgettable, Outcasts United offers a stirring lesson in the power of a single person to transform the lives of many. It’s an incisive window into the world ahead for all of us, where cultural diversity won’t be an ideal or a course requirement or a corporate initiative but a fact of life that has to be wrestled with and reconciled, if never quite resolved.”
–Reza Aslan, author of No God but God

Steven V. Roberts
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…This is an uplifting tale celebrating the most old-fashioned of virtues: hard work, self-discipline, regard for others.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

St. John (Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer) builds on his 2007 New York Times article about the Fugees, a soccer program for boys from families of refugees from war-torn nations who have been resettled in the town of Clarkston, Ga., 13 miles east of Atlanta. Led by the founder and coach Luma Mufleh, a strong-willed, Jordanian woman who turned her back on a privileged past to stay in America after attending Smith College, the three youth teams are a conglomeration of players from Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. The challenges they face are many, including an ongoing fight against city hall for a field on which to play, and getting by with subpar equipment. Their biggest challenge, however, is the difficulty immigrants face in learning the ways of a strange land and living with the memories of tragedy (some players had lost a parent to violence or imprisonment). In spite of it all, the Fugees compete admirably with mostly white, better-funded suburban teams. St. John begins with an inspiring description of a beautifully played game and then delves into the team's formation, but his storytelling takes on the methodical approach of a long series of newspaper articles that lack narrative flair and progression. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

St. John (Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip into the Heart of Fan Mania) tells the tale of the Fugees soccer team and their enigmatic coach, Luma Mufleh. The members of the Fugees were refugees from all over the globe, rescued by the UN's High Commission for Refugees, living together in a crime-riddled settlement center in Clarkston, GA. The stories of their escapes are harrowing. For example, Paula Balegamire and her five children fled civil war in Kivu through Rwanda, Tanzania, and Congo before accepting resettlement in Clarkston six years later. Her husband was jailed along the way. Not merely about soccer, St. John's book teaches readers about the social and economic difficulties of adapting to a new culture and the challenges facing a town with a new and disparate population. Despite their cultural and religious differences and the difficulty of adaptation, the Fugees came together to play soccer. This wonderful, poignant book is highly recommended for libraries collecting on the role of sport in people's lives and for those with an interest in immigration.
—Todd Spires

School Library Journal

Adult/High School

St. John, a New York Times reporter, brought Clarkston, GA, to national attention in 2007 with a series of articles about the changes in the small Southern town brought about by an influx of refugees from all over the world. This book comes out of those articles. It gives more detail about the town and, most particularly, the three soccer teams composed of refugee boys (the Fugees) who were coached by Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman. The book is a sports story, a sociological study, a tale of global and local politics, and the story of a determined woman who became involved in the lives of her young charges. Keeping the boys in school and out of gangs, finding a place for them to practice, and helping their families survive in a new world all became part of her daily life. Engagingly written, this volume will appeal to fans of Larry Colton's Counting Coup (Grand Central, 2000), H. G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights (HarperCollins, 1991), and Madeleine Blais's In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle (Grand Central, 1996).-Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library, CA

Kirkus Reviews
Richly detailed, uplifting account of a young Jordanian emigre who created a soccer program in Georgia for young refugees from war-torn nations. Expanding on his front-page series in the New York Times, St. John (Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, 2004) shows one determined woman profoundly impacting the lives of dozens of impoverished families. Arriving in the sleepy Atlanta suburb of Clarkston shortly after her graduation from Smith College in 1997, Luma Mufleh saw young refugee children playing soccer in the vacant lots around town. She persuaded the local YMCA to fund a free soccer program and signed on as its unpaid coach. She forged a team, the Fugees, out of recruits from such disparate lands as Liberia, Sudan, Zaire, Kosovo and Afghanistan. She offered youngsters traumatized by civil war and genocide the chance to enjoy a familiar pastime, often acting as a surrogate mother for children whose struggling parents worked long hours to support them. The Fugees' birth was not without challenges. Mufleh had to overcome prejudice from wary Clarkston residents, who resented the thousands of foreigners placed in their midst by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Mayor Lee Swaney repeatedly blocked the Fugees from practicing on the town's unused playing fields. Mufleh also had to combat the lure of local street gangs, "which promised both belonging and status" to kids who had little experience of either. Nevertheless, under her stern but steady guidance, the Fugees proved more than competitive against their better-equipped, well-supported suburban opponents. St. John combines this underdog sports saga with shocking background on the frequently bloody journeys taken by refugee families enroute to Clarkston. He also provides some valuable sociological insight into the adjustments required from both the refugees and their Clarkston neighbors to keep this small-town melting pot from boiling over. Readable, educational and enriching.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385522045
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 90,050
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Warren St. John
Warren St. John is a reporter for The New York Times and the author of the national bestseller Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Luma

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Foreword

1. When played beautifully, as Coach Luma might say, soccer is one of the world’s most fluid and graceful games. How does the nature of soccer refl ect and influence the ways in which the refugee children respond to the challenges of life in Clarkston? Is there something about the game that might make it particularly compelling for children who have endured war, violence, and displacement?

2. Coach Luma is also a Clarkston “outsider” in terms of her nationality. In what ways does her experience as an immigrant compare with those of her players? How does her “outsider” status affect the bond between the coach and her team? 

3. Chapter 3 describes a study led by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam that states that inhabitants of hyperdiverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life and distrust their neighbors. Are you surprised by Putnam’s findings? Why or why not? How can communities best overcome this unfortunate tendency? 4. How has the history of migration altered the cultural landscape in your community? 

4. The Under 13s managed to develop a warm, familial connection with little regard to their cultural and religious differences, while the Under 15s were less successful in creating such an environment. Why were the younger Fugees able to bond in a way that their older counterparts were unable to achieve? How did that bond, or lack thereof, affect their performance both on and off the fi eld? 

5. The refugee community in Clarkston is composed of a conglomerate of religions, ethnicities,and languages. How do the contrasting experiences of the Under 13 and Under 15 players relate to the complexities that face the refugee community as a whole? 

6. With the arrival of the Somali Bantu in Clarkston, longtime Clarkston residents became alarmed about changes in their community even though refugees had been resettling in Clarkston since the 1980s. Why was the local response suddenly more intense at this point in Clarkston’s history of refugee resettlement? 

7. How does Mandela Ziaty’s struggle with issues of identity differ from that of many American- born teenagers? Are there more similarities than differences? How does his dual identity as a defacto American and a displaced Liberian complicate this struggle? 

8. In chapter 24, Jeremy Cole, a case manager at one of the refugee agencies in Clarkston, challenged his traditional beliefs by converting to Islam. How were he and other Americans working with the refugee communities provoked to re examine their own identities based upon their interactions with different cultures? 

9. Discuss the problems involved in the Fugees’ search for a home field. Did the Clarkston government violate their human rights? What about the situation of the Lost Boys and the use of the soccer field? 

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. When played beautifully, as Coach Luma might say, soccer is one of the world’s most fluid and graceful games. How does the nature of soccer refl ect and influence the ways in which the refugee children respond to the challenges of life in Clarkston? Is there something about the game that might make it particularly compelling for children who have endured war, violence, and displacement?

2. Coach Luma is also a Clarkston “outsider” in terms of her nationality. In what ways does her experience as an immigrant compare with those of her players? How does her “outsider” status affect the bond between the coach and her team? 

3. Chapter 3 describes a study led by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam that states that inhabitants of hyperdiverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life and distrust their neighbors. Are you surprised by Putnam’s findings? Why or why not? How can communities best overcome this unfortunate tendency? 4. How has the history of migration altered the cultural landscape in your community? 

4. The Under 13s managed to develop a warm, familial connection with little regard to their cultural and religious differences, while the Under 15s were less successful in creating such an environment. Why were the younger Fugees able to bond in a way that their older counterparts were unable to achieve? How did that bond, or lack thereof, affect their performance both on and off the fi eld? 

5. The refugee community in Clarkston is composed of a conglomerate of religions, ethnicities, and languages. How do the contrasting experiences of the Under 13 and Under 15 players relate to the complexities that face the refugee community as a whole? 

6. With the arrival of the Somali Bantu in Clarkston, longtime Clarkston residents became alarmed about changes in their community even though refugees had been resettling in Clarkston since the 1980s. Why was the local response suddenly more intense at this point in Clarkston’s history of refugee resettlement? 

7. How does Mandela Ziaty’s struggle with issues of identity differ from that of many American- born teenagers? Are there more similarities than differences? How does his dual identity as a defacto American and a displaced Liberian complicate this struggle? 

8. In chapter 24, Jeremy Cole, a case manager at one of the refugee agencies in Clarkston, challenged his traditional beliefs by converting to Islam. How were he and other Americans working with the refugee communities provoked to re examine their own identities based upon their interactions with different cultures? 

9. Discuss the problems involved in the Fugees’ search for a home field. Did the Clarkston government violate their human rights? What about the situation of the Lost Boys and the use of the soccer field? 

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 67 )
Rating Distribution

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(28)

4 Star

(22)

3 Star

(12)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 67 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Outcasts United

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2013

    Melodypond will.....

    Make a better bio someday!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2013

    Nakita, Shani, and Blade

    Name: Nakita

    Rank: Lieutenant

    Gender: Female

    Age: 17 moons

    Animal: Half husky, half red wolf

    Appearance: Nakita, like the wolf side of her family, has reddish brown fur, with a white underbelly, one black front paw, and dazzling indigo eyes

    Personality: Cheerful, Calm, Kind, Gentle, Loyal, Generous, Honest, Trustworthy, Caring, yet Fierce, Brave, Couragous, and Willing to Lay Down her Life

    Crush: None

    Mate: None

    Pups: -_- What do you think?

    Kin: Niagara ((mother, dead)), Red ((father, missing)), and Kodi ((brother, missing))

    History: Good luck trying to get her to tell you!

    Theme Song: Missing by Evanescence ((seriously listen to that song it's awesome))

    Quote ((from her theme song)): "Please, please forgive me, but I won't be home again. Maybe someday you'll look up... and barely concious you'll say to no one, isn't something missing? You won't cry for my absence I know, you forgot me long ago! Am I that unimportant? Am I so insignifigant?! Isn't something missing? Isn't someone missing me?"

    Other: She has abnormally large paws, which give her the upper hand in battle

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Name: Shani ((which means "wonder" in Swahili))

    Rank: Fighter

    Gender: Female

    Age: Unknown

    Animal: Lioness

    Appearance: A golden brown lioness with darker brown flecks, relatively large ears, and sapphire blue eyes. A thick scar slices her muzzle, and another parts the fur on her shoulder

    Personality: Shy, Kind, Caring, Gentle, Smart, Normally Cheerful, Reassuring, and Trustworthy, but she has a heartbroken side that she rarely shows to anyone

    Crush: Spark... I'll cheerfully shred your ears if you tell him, though!

    Mate: None

    Cubs: None

    Kin: Doesn't speak much of them

    History: ASK HER AT YOUR OWNR RISK OF BEING DROWNED BY TEARS

    Theme Song: Bleed (I must be dreaming) by Evanescence

    Quote ((it's from the theme song)): "We all live and we all die, but that does not begin to justify you! It's not what it seems, not what you think. NO, I must be dreaming! It's only in my mind, not the real life. NO, I must be dreaming...!"

    Other: Nothing much


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Name: Blade

    Rank: Fighter ((I think))

    Gender: Male

    Age: 11 moons

    Animal: Cat

    Appearance: A jet black tom with a white chest, white tailtip, and emerald green eyes. He has a V-shaped nick in his right ear, and a large scar runs from the right side of his left eye to his jaw

    Personality: Quiet, Brave, Reckless, Couragous, Agressive, and Unpredictable, though he has a softer side...

    Crush: Flutter, it's kinda obvious

    Mate: None

    Kits: None

    Kin: Onyx ((father, dead)), Thornheart ((mother)), and Silverwing ((sister, missing))

    History: Will not tell just anyone

    Theme Song: Numb by Linkin Park

    Quote ((from the theme song)): "I'm tired of being what you want me to be, feeling so faithless, lost under the surface. Don't know what you're expecting of me, put under the pressure of walking in your shoes! (Caught in the undertow, just caught im the undertow) Every step that is another mistake to you...! I've become so numb, I can't feel you there, become so tired, so much more aware! I'm becoming this, all I want to do is be more like ME and be less like YOU!"

    Other: He hates what he has become

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2013

    Glimmer

    Name: Glimmer that Shines at Twilight
    Gender: Female
    Rank: Leader
    Age: 30 moons
    Species: Tigress
    Looks: Pale pink tigress with silver stripes, paws, and tailtip. Her eyes are iceblue, tinged with lavender. Her left ear is torn. She has purewhite wings, rimmed with gold, that are a foxlength long.
    Personality: Talk to her! She won't mind
    Crush: None
    Mate: Raven(quit rp)
    Kits: Melody of Spring Nightingale, Sleet that Pelts Against Mountain, Flutter of Songbird's Wings, and Ashen Sky
    Other: Nothing much

    Name: Spark that Flies in Fire
    Gender: Dude
    Age: 30 moons
    Rank: Fighter
    Species: Lion
    Looks: Pitch black, with red flecks and tailtip, and pale orange and yellow wings. His eyes are amber
    Personality: Relaxed, laidback, and loyal, quick to make friends and slow to judge. Horrible when it comes to girls.
    Crush: Shani
    Mate: None
    Kits: None
    Other: Ask me!

    Name: Flutter of Songbird's Wings
    Gender: Female
    Age: 14 moons
    Rank: Fighter
    Species: I dunno, you tell me
    Looks: Her tail is large and fluffy. Her tailtip is a translucent golden color, just like her paws, which are abnormally large. Her fur is light purple, while her eyes are pale indigo, almost purplish. Pale blue wings are folded at her sides
    Personality: Quiet and shy, doesn't talk much
    Crush: Umm…
    Mate: None
    Kits: None
    Other: Nothing much

    Name: Sleet that Crashes Against Mountain
    Gender: Dude
    Age: 14 moons
    Rank: Fighter
    Species: I dunno, looks like a tiger without stripes
    Looks: Purewhite fur with a silvery glow, vibrant blue eyes, pale silver paws and tailtip, and fluffy fur.
    Personality: See Spark
    Crush: None
    Mate: None
    Kits: None
    Other: Nothing

    Name: Melody of Spring Nightingale
    Gender: Female
    Age: 14 moons
    Rank: Healer
    Species: Cat-ish?
    Looks: Pinkish purple fur with golden specks, short, fluffy tail, pale golden paws
    Personality: Talk to me!
    Crush: None
    Mate: None
    Kits: None
    Other: Nothing

    Name: Ashen Sky
    Gender: Female
    Age: 14 moons
    Rank: Fighter
    Species: Tigress
    Looks: Grayish fur with pale blue and purple stripes, green eyes, and a white blaze on her chest.
    Personality: Loud, proud, confident, quick to make friends and stand up for anyone.
    Crush: None, I don't care about guys.
    Mate: None
    Kits: None
    Other: Seriously, nothing!

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  • Posted April 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A Book from the Past Still Resonates Today

    Although this book takes place in the '90s, its subject matter clearly resonates even today. For soccer and sociology fans.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2011

    A pretty good read

    This book is a very quick read with a great mesaage. Coach Luma is a very inspiring individual with a heart for refugees. I ejiyed reading about her journey with the team andthe incredible mission she is trying to accomplish. However i was not exactly a fan of the way the author portrayed the town. I feel like it was slightly jaded and made them look unwelcoming and i am very sure this was untrue of thebtown as a whole. As a whole the book is very inspiring. Go Fugees!

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  • Posted October 30, 2011

    I Am Officially Now A Fugee Fan

    I was encouraged to turn the page with anticipation throughout this inspiring true story of the Fugees and the coach who taught them the values of team work and self-discipline. The author, Warren St. John, brings the story to life with his simple yet realistic vocabulary, making me want to stand up and cheer whether it be during a soccer game or a heartwarming moment between Coach Luma and her fellow teammates. I especially enjoyed the moments where Luma failed to hide her emotions because she tried to give off such a tough attitude; but, just like a chocolate bon bon, she's a softie.
    It was hard taking in the obstacles that Coach Luma and the Fugees had to face: the bitterness and discrimination from white residents and differing races, the limited resources in order to escape from their troubles, and wanting to be accepted by society. But Luma was not willing to give up, and as long as she kept fighting for what was rightfully fair, the Fugees had something to hope for.
    I am still upset with the way the community over-reacted after seeing a team made up of child immigrants, play soccer. The city council should be fired immediately and replaced by people who actually believe in equal rights. Don't get me started with Officer Jordan, who was caught on tape committing police brutality on an African American.
    By the time I finished this book, it made me think about pursuing the dreams and the goals I have always wanted to achieve because I could relate to the team during a certain game in the book where they said that it was up to them if they wanted to win, "Its not the coach who's playing the game, we are". The way the Fugees grew from underdog status to rising stars is always something to look up to because they got what they deserved and more. What started out as a team, turned out to be a family of different cultures and backgrounds.

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  • Posted October 20, 2011

    So Great---Couldn't Put it Down!

    This book was amazing! It provided such insight, but it was so well written. It made me not want to put it down. I had to read this for school, but I would definitely read it again! Such an inspiring story! Do yourself a favor and go buy this book! It's amazing. You will not regret it!

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  • Posted October 14, 2011

    Fascinating, but the length detracts from message.

    The strong message that I got from reading this book about acceptance and selflessness and involvement was clouded and diminished because of the length of the book and its lack of focus on that crucial point. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since this is obviously the way the author chose to write the book, and since it gave a rare and much-needed look into the lives of these immigrants, but the book would have been much more effective and much more relatable to a larger number of people (could have kept their interest)if it were perhaps a long article, without all of the anecdotal information about the kids and their families.

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  • Posted August 16, 2011

    highly recommended

    I bought this book following my son's freshman orientation in Minnesota. The university staff told us that the book would be required reading for the students and encouraged all of us, parents as well as students, to read the book. I'm glad I did.

    As the other reviewers will tell you, this is a story about three soccoer teams (sorted by age group) made up of refugees from many war torn countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa and the work of a female Jordanian coach doing extraordinary (though she might not consider it so) work with the help of people she comes in contact with to raise the spirits, expectations, and hopes of the boys who stick it out in her soccer and tutoring program. But the story isn't just about the team or the coach or soccer. It's also about America, becoming American, and the politics of an evolving American community affected by immigration.

    The story made me think alot about how we Americans treat each other, what life must have been like for our ancestors as they came to this new land and as later immigrants joined them in later generations. This book was well worth reading and perhaps even re-reading.

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  • Posted March 15, 2011

    outcasts united

    i love the book i judt got it and its great

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  • Posted February 20, 2011

    outcasts united

    Outcasts united is a truly amazing book. it brings you into the life of a refugee.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    An image of the changing South

    This is an interesting story, set in suburban Atlanta, that gets at two social/political issues - the crisis of displaced families, a crisis that is always present with changing locations, and the inner conflict in the US South between a parochial old guard that is not trusting or accepting of outsiders (while still maintaining an air of "Southern Hospitality") and a newer generation that is more homogenous in relation to the rest of the country, particularly when viewed through the lens of "soccer parents". The contrast between the "haves" and the "have nots", while not surprising, is certainly striking.

    This story will make you angry many times. There is an interesting portion where St. John becomes part of the story, where the reader is forced to realize just how difficult it can be even in the small things to make the kinds of transitions the refugees are trying to make.

    If you're getting it because you think this is a soccer book, you are mistaken. I still would suggest reading it, but the soccer is just the thread that links the various stories together. You still should read it, particularly if you are a player. The contrasts between soccer and life; haves and have nots; privileged and under-privileged; provide a framework for understanding your teammates, opponents, coaches, and parents.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Even though it is the book of San Diego this year, read it .....

    I initially began this book because of One Book San Diego and my book club selected it. THEN I ended up reading excerpts to my 10 grade writing classes and now the book is out there with my students. Not only do I care for each person portrayed, I learned so much about the backgrounds which have 'been in the news' but have no true faces. I can't give this enough praise. Read it even though someone else you don't know recommends it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2010

    Too Technical

    I continued reading the book because I have agreed to lead the discussion for my book group otherwise I might have set it aside. If one is interested in the complex and convuluted history of Africa and other 3rd world countries it was useful. If one is interested in the technical aspects of playing soccer it might have been engaging. I found it to be a journalist's work without "punch". If it had stuck to the main story more and less about the background, it might have held my interest longer.

    I admire the coach and her total devotion to her players. I learned a lot about resettlment communities and the effects of immigrants on the local social structures. That part is a lesson in modern day immigration impacts that is importatnt for citizens all over this country.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Outcasts United- One for all and all for one!!

    It is the story of a team which comprised of boys who hailed from Congo, Afganisthan and other countries whose families were selected by UNHCR for resettlement, of a town which was chosen as the home for these refugees and a coach who separated from her family, worked rigorously to maintain her soccer team. Outcasts United is a book which presents the plethora of challenges that people would have to encounter in a new community, a community where people have so little in common. It is also about how people adjust to these difficult situations and strive to make a difference in the society. Let us delve into the world of Outcasts United-The team, The town and The coach.
    Fugees was the name of the team that comprised of boys who were refugees from numerous countries across Asia and Africa. They arrived with their families which were selected for resettlement in a small town outside Atlanta called Clarkston. They were poverty-stricken and devoid of any basic necessities for survival and thus received financial assistance from the government for three months before they could find jobs and make a living of their own. The children suffered the most-they were outcasts at school and at the same time experienced the numerous difficulties of getting caught between cultures which in this case are the their native culture and the American culture. Although they loved soccer, they had no place to play or no equipment necessary equipment .Their future was dim until coach Luma, who watched the boys play in the parking lot of an apartment complex, decided to start a refugee football team called the Fugees. From then, it was success all along.Although the team experienced a lot of problems, they did not still their intransient passion for the game which helped them compete against some of the league's best teams and emerge victorious. One would marvel at the unalterable determination of these boys who despite cultural barriers strived rigorously to satiate their passion for the game.
    Luma Mefleh was a Jordanian-born daughter of a business man. She was graduate of Smith College and decided to settle and make a living in the USA. Most importantly, she was also a coach of the refugees, the football team comprised of the refugee. Not only was she a stringent coach but also was a soft-hearted person who spent time with the boy's families and helped them adjust to their new homes. Even though Luma had previous experiences as a coach, she faced many problems. She had to fight to find an appropriate place for the team in a town where soccer was a relatively new game. Apart from this, she also faced the added responsibility of managing a team which comprised of boys from various countries who did not know the importance of team effort in a game like soccer. t is inspiring to read about a female soccer coach, who separated from her family, goes against a league dominated by male coaches and attempts to emerge victorious.
    The remaining element of the story is the town, a town where a large group of refugees have been congregated so that they could live a peaceful life that is devoid of any hardships that they had experienced back in their home towns. While many small towns around Atlanta had been swallowed by the growing development, Clarkston had proudly maintained its independence.
    It is exciting to read how these different elements react in a story which depicts life and reality.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 7, 2009

    Outcasts United-the story of one team, in one town, but with issues that have global impacts.

    A fast paced modern day chronicle following the lives of various individuals from different walks of life, and the ability (or inability, at times)of a small town outside of Atlanta, Georgia to deal with the immense magnitude of change it has underwent-is what broadly defines Warren St John's book, Outcasts United.It is best to refer to his work as "a book" in general terms because it encompasses many different literary adaptations in telling the story of the "fugees". St John's narrative style shifts from biographical to chronicle as the story progresses. The book adopts a biographical tone primarily in describing the various stages of the life of coach Luma. From her early days under the shield of her wealthy Jordanian family, to her eventual disconnection with them following her decision to stay in the United States due to the liberalized atmosphere and attitude towards women, St John offers to the readers a back story to which so many parallels can be drawn as the story progresses. St John highlights the emotional and even financial sacrifices she makes in order to stay in the United States-she is determined to succeed and do whatever it takes to make it in America without her family's support (following her decision not to return to Jordan). In many ways, this foreshadows some events to come later in the story, where she would come across other young refugees, who come from much more desperate situations, but in the end also have the same goal-to achieve, survive, and succeed. As many critics agree, this chronicle is the product of passionate authorship and "a heartwarming tale about transformations that occur when our disparate lives connect." [Ishmael Beah].
    The latter majority of the book details how Luma and the Fugees are united by a common sport-regardless of their race, creed, color, religion or ethnicity. However, as the audience will soon find out, there is one more dynamic to consider-the town of Clarkston, Georgia. What really makes St John's chronicle memorable is his account of what happens not only when Luma meets the kids, thus leading to the birth of the Fugees, but also, the ability of a small previously homogenous all American town to accept the magnitude of diversity they were faced with.Through various direct, and even subtle ways-St John manages to cover many angles of the interesting story, managing to stay informative, yet engaging. He does so primarily by "cross cutting" to different stories so as not to make the reading "linear" and static, but dynamic. In this way, the readers are not given the whole account of one person's story at a time, but rather different accounts of different events in the children's and Luma's lives in pieces. There are instances where the book begins to have some repetition. For example,St John gives a play by play commentary of some of the games, which from a readers perspective, is best fitted for movies not books, and slows down the reading slightly.But more importantly, this detracts from the main idea of the story, the main focus-on how Fugees struggle against tyranny individually,then work and face obstacles together upon coming to America. The book does end differently from traditional novels however. Unlike most books, this account has an irresolute ending. There is no definite solution, and this is not a lapse on St John's part, as the struggles of the fugees and Clarkston as a whole still continue.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 7, 2009

    Outcasts United- and when they say united they mean it.

    It is hard to imagine that so many miles away, there is so much despair and tragedy but this book shines a light on a different world that everyone needs to be aware. The stories of the individual refugees and their families are a focus and in each there are captivating experiences that kept me on the edge of my seat. Perhaps the most interesting story was that of Coach Luma, the leader of this amazing soccer team. Her struggles and triumphs are conveyed and the reader feels as they are along for the ride. She makes grand efforts to bring her team together and makes incredible sacrifices. The fact that all the boys on the team are from many different countries and have unique dialects also add to the challenge but their love of the sport drives them to push hard and aim for their goals. The author does a wonderful job of portraying the boys as individuals all overcoming their unique struggles in a new world. The city where this all occurs, Clarkston, GA, is also a feature in the book and we see the history as well as the present and future of the town and how the newcomers are affecting the already existent citizens. Throughout the whole book there are emotions of despair, difficulty, tragedy, sadness, but also joy, happiness, and success. The determination is prevalent and the reader feels proud of the boys and almost adopts them as their own. Outcasts united speaks to a wide array of audiences and not only do the boys in the book try to overcome their differences and unite but the readers also feel a sense of community once finished with their story.
    The book delves into the complex issues of community, acceptance, and freedom. The way the refugees are treated by the older citizens of the city seems almost appalling but from their view, they are worried about encroachment on their values. With the coming of the refugees, other consequences are exposed such as crime, violence, gang membership and even hostel shootings. There are dangers, most Americans do not have to worry about, that are commonly present every day. All the refugees face terror and discrimination and the new language barrier is enough to try and handle. Confusion and mistreatment go hand in hand and the author depicts the harsh occurrences that make the struggle for the boys like a journey to escape their naturally expected future. The boys face threats and temptations to succumb to the reckless activities of other boys in the community but through the aid of the soccer team, there is the reason to stay focused and stay off the streets. Practices and tough schedules keep them busy and preoccupied so as not to get swept up in the mayhem of the town.
    The fate of the boys is almost resting in the hands of their coach as she tries to help them with their studies as well as their family lives. She reaches out to the refugee community in an effort to help get dedicated players who will honor and respect her commitment by matching it with theirs on and off the field. She is extremely tough but always fair and sets a standard that strives for perfection and utmost perseverance. She wants to make sure she has the players that will not only bring success but pride to the name Fugees. She is the glue that holds these boys together and the author is sure to include all the events that highlight her hard exterior but also included are points where you know she is full of raw emotion and compassion for these refugee boys.
    F

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  • Posted October 7, 2009

    Insights from Outcasts United

    In the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia lies a small suburban town called Clarkston. Filled with a curious mixture of old churches and international hole-in-the-wall shops, it causes one to look twice. Just like the rail line that splits the circular city boundaries in half, there is an unseen conflict between two cultural worldviews-the white populace ingrained in the model suburban American life, and an influx of refugees from points scattered around the globe.
    After growing up in the midst of this turmoil, I am somewhat accustomed to it-but my experience had never been put in words. Warren St. John has taken Clarkston's situation-as well as the cities across the world experiencing the influx of refugees-and presented it for the world to see. Following the Fugees soccer team through a season of turmoil, conflict, and joy, Warren St. John pieces together the underlying threads of the history of the Fugees-from family members being imprisoned or killed, to their journey to Clarkston. He also presents the background of Clarkston, and how it's placement at the far end of Atlanta's public transit system and cheap housing made it the candidate for the refugees to live. Then, the clash begins, as worlds collide and both Clarkston and the refugees quizzically investigate one another, trying to grasp why the other acts the way they do.
    This book is an invaluable tool and resource, as with all of history, there are lessons to be learned from our past experiences to be applied to future interactions. How can this book be applicable to the reader's life? Though there are, for certain, individuals who are directly impacted by the issues surrounding refugee resettlement-whether they are living in the "Clarkstons" of the world, or the refugees themselves-this book contains rich insights into much less extreme situations that we all encounter in our daily routine. How do we, as individuals, connect with those around us, who may have vastly different cultural backgrounds? In Outcasts United, Warren St. John finds the connection amongst the refugees in Clarkston to be soccer. Despite their cultural barrier, not to mention their language barrier, the refugees in Clarkston are able to embrace their common ground with the help of their coach, Luma Mufleh. Does this common ground allow them to unite? Not always. There is a choice that must be made-a choice not to abandon who they are, but a choice to serve the rest of the team.
    It would be a shame that the complex cultural backgrounds of society would be lost-while it would potentially be easier, the world would lose the richness of cultures that balance each other out. For example, imagine the cultures of the world as the ingredients of a cake made from scratch. The cake would never exist unless each part was included-if all the cake was flour, it would be a tasteless mess indeed! Each ingredient must exist for the flavor to come out. However, we as members of various cultures, have a choice. If we refuse to mix, but rather stay in our own cluster with the rest of our kind, the cake will fail as well. The reason the Fugees soccer team ever held together was that Coach Luma stipulated that those who were a part of the team went by her orders-one of which was to mix up the players. However, even Luma's strong leadership cannot hold together her Under 15 team-the choice to succeed must be made at the individual level.
    Warren St. John's book brings this challenge to its readers-will we, like Luma, like th

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2009

    Beautiful story

    I loved this book. The author includes stories about several of the boys, and background on the country and conflict from which they came. I have never considered refugees in this country and their plight. Makes me want to get involved and volunteer.

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