Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Book Report

"Africa United"
by Steve Bloomfield
This book called to me in June from the new releases table of the local bookstore. A book on African soccer! Just before the first African World Cup!
In other words, the book had the exact effect on me that the publisher desired. Ka-ching!
That topicality turned out to be one of the weaknesses of this still quite interesting book. It came off as having been assembled hurriedly to meet that marketing-driven deadline. Then again, how else does a book on African soccer land in an American bookstore? "Africa United" is a snapshot of soccer in 10 African nations, evidently put together as author Bloomfield, a Nairobi-based correspondent for British publications, conducted his reportage.

Stories range from the fairly well-known story of the Ivory Coast team's role in brokering a case-fire in the nation's civil war, to a timely (and prescient) chapter on the institutional problems that weakened the South African national football team. Bloomfield also talks about the less-well-known world of domestic football in nations like Congo and Nigeria, and football's continuing cultural resonance in the midst of the social destruction wrought by wars in Somalia and Sierra Leone.
The word "football" reminds me of my pet peeve about the book, at least the U.S. edition. Apparently the American publisher just ran an auto-replace of the word "football" with "soccer" to the point of maddening distraction - even in proper names. For example: "Leo Mugabe, the president's nephew, was chairman of the Zimbabwe Soccer Association (ZIFA)." Memo to the editors: the audience for a book like this already knows the game is known as football in most of the world.
Final summary: a good read if you find the topic interesting.

Published by Harper Perennial.