Book: Africa United

"Africa United" by Steve BloomfieldAfrica United is the story of modern-day Africa told through its soccer. Traveling across thirteen countries, from Cairo to the Cape, Steve Bloomfield meets players and fans, politicians and rebel leaders, discovering the role that soccer has played in shaping the continent. He recounts how soccer has helped to stoke conflicts and end wars, bring countries together and prop up authoritarian regimes.

A lively and elegantly reported travelogue, Africa United calls attention to the amazing relationships between people and soccer, and to the state of Africa on the cusp of the biggest moment in its sporting history, the 2010 World Cup.

Not a lot of people know that I’m a football fan. Well, not exactly a fan—but I enjoy watching football. Of all the sports out there, football is the only one I can actually see myself playing. Now, if only I had better coordination.

But that’s a subject for a different kind of blog post.

When I saw Africa United, I was intrigued. Reading the back cover, I thought it would be sort of like Pacific Rims—except with football as the sport instead of basketball. And during the time I bought the book, I was still on a Pacific Rims high. (To be clear, this was after I read the book—way, way before the book-signing event last month.) So I picked Africa United up—and bought the book.

Fast forward to some months later, I started reading the book. Three weeks later, I finally finished it.

Normally, I would attribute my slow reading pace to being busy with work, and because I tend to read more slowly when it’s non-fiction. But Africa United was only ten chapters long. And it wasn’t a thick book to begin with.

I just found it really boring.

Each chapter of the book relates to one African country. And I think that’s the problem with the book. Each chapter has its own story to tell, and most of the time, it doesn’t relate to the other stories being told. For a book called Africa United, its stories don’t seem to be very united. Or, at least, it doesn’t to me.

Every time you’d start a new chapter, it feels like you’re starting a new story. And not a very well-plotted one. The author has a tendency to jump through time, detailing football or political history, depending on what he needs to explain, rather than what the viewers need to know. That might sound a little confusing, let me try again:

Whenever the author wants to get a point across, like how good a team was prior to a certain event, he would rail off a few points of historical data—and then go back to his narrative. This was, quite honestly, jarring for me as I didn’t expect that there was a going to be a trip down history lane. Whenever this happened, I had to do a number of re-reading to make sure I didn’t skip a page or miss out on a paragraph. It was definitely disconcerting.

When I started to read Africa United, what I really expected was to learn more about Africa through the sport they play—and the political climate the continent is in. I got much of the latter, but of the former, the only thing I gleaned from the book was this: Africans love football. A lot.

I know I really shouldn’t compare it to Pacific Rims. I mean, one book is about basketball, and the other football. That alone means I shouldn’t compare—but I can’t help it. I’m not a basketball fan, but I saw how author Rafe Bartholomew loved the game through his writing. Steve Bloomfield claims the same for football, but I never felt it through his writing. Reading Africa United was like reading an online news article—except it wasn’t just a few paragraphs long. And it took forever (an exaggeration, obviously) to finish.

Do I regret buying Africa United? Well, not really. Books like this make us appreciate those we liked all the more. But if I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I might have passed on this book.

But, as I always say, these are just my thoughts. Check out what other people have said about the book:
The Scotsman
The Independent
Good Reads

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