Monday, December 02, 2013

Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow

NGO soccer, Tanzania
This book is at the same time both entirely and not at all, you must understand, about soccer, which may help to explain how like the game itself, Soccer in Sun and Shadow is a masterwork of splendid, glorious bullshit.

No longer a beautiful game, nevertheless soccer's history overflows with memories of beauty, of inexplicable goals, inconceivable saves, and irrepressible young men refusing to share the ball even with their teammates, and in this book, Eduardo Galeano revives this lost beauty in a quixotic attempt to shame those responsible for the crime.

Because if you trust Galeano, as you must, you will know that not so very long ago, only a few generations, soccer was a game of sustained attacks, of dribbling a ball through a sea of flailing opponents, of men rising into myth and the air to cannon a header fit to crush a nation's soul. Now? Players forced into robotic systems, owners corrupt enough to make Enron look like the Salvation Army, organizing bodies that lack the Mafia's common decency: and yet Galeano, like so many others, watched all 64 games of the most recent World Cup, because it remains soccer, and yet may be revived.

Via here
Indeed the once-beautiful game does continue to revive and then to die, one unpredictable moment at a time, and it's somewhere near here that I part ways from the book club.

See, nobody liked this book. It's a bunch of fragments, they said, not a bouquet or a puzzle or a box of chocolates, it's an interminable exercise in random soccer details masquerading as a book. You put the book down for too long, and you're probably not going to pick it up again. Maybe you like where you're at, while reading it, but just once lose your page, and you'll never figure out where you'd gotten to.

In my view, Soccer in Sun and Shadow takes the form of a match: of an ideal, long-ago match, from before FIFA first sat its giant buttocks on soccer's chest and began squeezing the joy from the game's lungs. This book is full of shining moments, studded with separate tiny reminiscences of historic and historically beautiful goals and saves, buried in a book-long narrative so gradually overwhelming that you don't even notice until near injury time that somehow, somehow, fucking Uruguay (URUGUAY, the shame of it, only imagine) has scored their sixth goal, and you're never coming back from this.

The narrative, really, is about the subordination of South American football, its transformation from a game of joy and daring and risk, to a cog in the European monopoly-capitalist machine that pretends, obscenely, to the name of football. Galeano builds this narrative by recounting, through fragments not always connected to the main story, the history of the World Cups. By the book's end, you should be ready to rise up against Blatter and Havelange and the money men, or ready to admit your utter lack of soul.
From the movie Pele

Of course, I don't really watch soccer. I can't stand the parade of catastrophic faux-injuries: bad theatre, even at its best, like trying to watch The Marriage of Figaro while on one corner of the stage there's a small-town revival of Cats or Grease or something. Galeano's book, though, has me thinking that maybe I should be watching for the gems anyway, and ignoring the rest of it on faith that it'll mean something in the end, and that the narrative, unbeknownst to me, will work out.

In sum, this is a brilliant, brilliant book, and I hope never to read a better book on sports, for fear of losing what remains of my grip on what I weakly persist in thinking of as my professional interest in literature.

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Need a little more persuasion? Try listening to Galeano reading excerpts from the book.

Want a more coherent review? Try this one at ESPN, complete with interview with the author.

Incidentally, I'm alternately gratified and horrified that when I went googling for reviews that I could bash this one against, I saw that Amazon has filed this angry, celebratory, finely serious book under, of all things, HUMOR. Great to see hard evidence that Amazon's business model is utterly doomed, and that its algorithms are failing ever more all the time to approach the singularity via ecommerce.

6 comments:

fiona said...

I like the way you've described this - sounds worth reading. have ordered one!

richard said...

Good choice! I think you've got soccer folk in your household, if I'm not mistaken, and you'll both appreciate it.

F. said...

So you don't actually watch any soccer, but you believe it's full of fake injuries?

I see.

richard said...

I don't watch ANY sports in full any more. But it's true, I haven't watched more than ten consecutive minutes of soccer in quite a while.

Wait: Are you saying no one ever flings themselves to the turf any more, like they've been shot?

Or maybe, wait: Are you saying that you don't write rhetorical flourishes, just because you can, and so no one else can either?

F said...

I suppose what I'm saying is that rhetorical assertions are just dandy unless they maybe reveal outdated stereotypical assumptions:

I don't read Canadian literature — I can't stand the parade of Anglo-French wilderness pioneers.

It's clearly been a few years since that literary opinion was formed, and just so with the reviewer's analysis of soccer.

Soccer players receive warnings or ejections for "simulation" now: "Attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation), must be sanctioned as unsporting behaviour which is misconduct punishable by a yellow card." In North American pro soccer, players can be fined by the association upon video review, even if the simulation fools the referee.

Additionally, with the liberalization of the "advantage" rule, (like a delayed penalty in ice hockey) a player who is fouled has a significant incentive to try and stumble through the hit and take a shot anyhow.

I suppose it's fine to evoke stereotypes, just that it leaves you a bit vulnerable to accusations of stereotyping when you begin by saying the opinions are actually based on no modern experience.

Has that Susanna Moodie written anything new?

richard said...

Susanna Moodie has SO sold out.

Glad to hear that I should maybe watch soccer again after all! But my persisting ignorance, in the face of how much I love some of the bits of soccer, should tell you how intensely I loathed, though, what to me read like chicanery and yet to others somehow read as "part of the game."