It's an international language. Show up at a park with a soccer ball, people will flock. Sit on the sidelines, and when the balls rolls to you the game is calling you in. Gwendolyn Oxenham traveled through two dozen countries, looking for this pure form of the game; pickup soccer.
That is the trailer for the movie she and her companions shot, called Pelada, that soccer enthusiasts around the country came in droves to see. St. Martin's Press how now published her memoir of the journey, and it's a fantastic read.
It's called Finding the Game, and it chronicles her journey through these countries; the trails they faced with allies and non-allies alike. Getting snuck into a prison, sneaking around Iran, but what comes across most is how soccer served as a loosening of those tensions.
As you travel around the world with her, you learn the various names for pickup soccer. In Trinidad, it's "taking a sweat". In Brazil, "pelada" meaning literally naked. Picado in Argentina meaning picked off, your own little piece of the game. They find, and play in, games in the slums, in areas tour guides are afraid to take them, and in some breathtaking places too.
The lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, the sand in front of the Eqyptian Pyramids, every place is a potential playing field. Remote beaches, the roofs of skyscrapers. There was the game in the Bolivian prison, playing with women in hijab in Tehran. These beautiful stories tie together a narrative about the binding power of soccer.
If there's a weakness to the narrative, it's that it can feel like a travelogue. While it stands completely on its own if you haven't seen the film, don't expect Oxenham to divert too farm from observations. It's not a reflective book, and little context is given as to what the lives are like for the people she meets on the soccer court.
Not that you won't meet some fascinating people, and get a brief window into their lives. And the book is almost 300 pages long, so it's not that I felt it was too brief. It's a book about the soccer they found around the world. As a reader you will see the Argentine kid in the slums who wants to be just like Messi. You'll see the Israeli-Palestine conflict played out on the court.
You will see the world through the eyes of the beautiful game. Maybe that's enough.