Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Outcasts United Again
First, a short knotted string of coincidences: Sarah Jane reports in a comment that she is reading a collection of essays, edited by Harold Bloom, on Jude the Obscure, the last novel by Thomas Hardy. After that, and the reception of scandalized critics, he wrote only poetry and drama, much of which I just riffled through when a Library of America edition of his works passed through my hands at Babbitt's Books.
Co-worker Jo, a Hardy scholar, and a reader of mysteries, just finished "a police procedural" (a term I wasn't aware of till she spoke it, apparently a kind of mystery focused on what the police do to solve it) by Peter Turnbull and is taking up The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankell, a mystery set in Sweden and Beijing, among other places.
And Bill, poetry editor for The Hardy Review, and Jo's former professor, just emailed to have me update my bio to publish with 4 poems in the spring issue. The poems touch on Hardy themes of tragic accident, erotic love, intense weather, and biography.
Jude was a social outcast with thwarted dreams of being a scholar,working as a mason instead. (I am tempted to mention the tomes of "secret" Masonic literature we continue to receive at Babbitt's. Which reminds me, inevitably, of Peggy Sue Got Married, immediately lifting the mood to silliness.) And very soon, I will embark on another close reading of The Scarlet Letter, and spend some time Hester the seamstress, another social outcast.
But for now, I'll say that I have finished the "Tale for Two Cities" selection for my twin cities: Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference, by Warren St. John, and look forward to hearing the author speak on April 12 at the fabulous new hotel and conference center in our little town. (This hotel will allow more academic conferences to take place here, where we have two universities.)
The young soccer players in this book are "social outcasts" in America only because they are outwardly different from their neighbors in small-town Georgia, having been cast out from various homelands for various reasons, often experiencing terrible trauma and violence. But soccer gives them a home and a team and a way to bond with others and, eventually, with the larger community.
This is more than a "feel good" story, even if the eventual movie might make it into that, and one certainly does not feel good reading about what has happened to these families before they got to Georgia, nor what they often encountered here. It is a fine and balanced account, resulting from "immersion" journalism (like the "participant observer" journalism of Truman Capote for In Cold Blood, but producing true non-fiction, not Capote's hybrid novel, which my husband is reading right now.)
Having mentioned Rick Bragg and his plagiarism woes earlier in this blog, I was struck by St. John's meticulous and abundant acknowledgements at the back of this paperback edition of the book, and this sentence in particular: "Times bylines usually carry only one or two names, a convention that hardly does justice to the true tally of people who contribute to each story." St. John's true tally is impressive, and he credits all those who helped with articles on The Fugees soccer team published in the New York Times as well as all those who helped with the book emerging from his immersion reporting.
"Reporters, it might be said, scour for facts in the hope of uncovering truths, and while the former may make the page, the latter take root in the mind and heart." St. John then deeply and sweetly thanks the players and families who have clearly taken root in his mind and heart. I was also thinking here of how his objective reporting of the facts allowed me uncover possible truths between the lines, and also to accept a number of complexities and ambiguities that simply can't be easily reported or resolved. They exist.