Gwendolyn Oxenham may be a former NCAA division 1 soccer player at Duke but more than that she is a lover of the game and a brilliant storyteller. In "Finding the Game" Oxenham tells the same story that she did in her documentary "Paleda", the story of her three year journey to twenty-five countries searching for games on pickup soccer.
She recounts that journey with greater detail in the book making it an enjoyable read regardless of whether or not you have seen the movie. Her stories of finding games in every country show how not only is soccer played all around the world but it takes on a style unique to each location you visit. Oxenham, along with the others traveling with her, finds a very different game on the beaches of Argentina than they do in the prisons of Belize or with the moonshiners in Kenya. One thing remains constant though, despite language barriers and differences in style you can get to know someone just by playing a game of pickup soccer with them.
It is striking in the book that the traveling group can run into closed doors and people unwilling to talk to them but as soon as they start to play the game the people begin to open up. They use soccer to go to places where people warned them were far too dangerous and when they get there they end up being invited in to play the beautiful game. Even in Iran, where it is illegal for a woman to play sports with her, Oxenham is invited in to the game and from there is able to learn stories that Americans would otherwise have no access to.Having seen the movie before reading the book I was not sure what to expect. I knew that "Paleda" was a fantastic film showing off how the game takes on different forms to match where you are but was unsure about how it would translate to the page. I was quite pleasantly surprised though when I discovered that Oxenham could tell a story just as well as her team could produce a movie. The best part of the book being that you can tell many more stories in the space of nearly 300 pages than you can in a 90 minute film. That means that in the book Oxenham gets to tell you about the moments that were painful to cut from the movie as well as letting readers know how the movie actually came to be.
She explains all the strokes of luck and all the hardships that came together to make the movie happen and it really is incredible that after everything they went through the movie would come into existence. Writing the book was a lot more straight forward as that was what Oxenham wanted to do having received her masters in creative writing for Notre Dame. Her skill as a writer blends perfectly with her passion for soccer and her love of getting to know people to produce a book that goes above and beyond the movie.
What results is a book that will appeal to a broader audience than just the hardcore soccer fan. It should appeal to anyone who likes reading about different culture, about travel, and about the things that bring people together. There is no attempts to dissect the game and why it is so universal. It is not about professional players who live in a different world from the rest of us. It is about just appreciating the game at its most simple level and getting to know people who love the game so much that they spend the small amounts of time and money that they do have to be able to play.
The book reminded me about the things that I always loved about playing soccer. I was never a fan of training and far too often games left me frustrated and angry but when I played pickup soccer and was free to play the game the way I wanted it was always felt somehow better. It is a sentiment that Oxenham echos in saying, "the best games are marked by a failure to refrain". That is soccer at its purest form when the personality of every player can shine through and in a way it makes the game more honest. It was nice to step away from the professional game for a while and read this book, a refreshing reminder of what I love.
I would recommend anyone who loves the game to check out both the movie and the book. The best recommendation that I can give to it is the fact that I read the whole thing in under a week despite being notoriously bad at actually sitting down and reading a book. It was also enjoyed by other people in my family who are not exactly what you would call soccer fans. So there you have it, more than enough reasons to read the book (you can read an excerpt and purchase it here) and hopefully this trailer makes you want to watch the film.