A timely book written by the woman who created the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange, an organization that nurtures young Afghani girls through sport, specifically soccer, this tells of the creation of the organization but it focuses more on the original eight girls on the team. It follows their lives outside of soccer but also spends some time describing their reaction to the US when they travel here to play in exhibition games. Sports can make an important difference in peoples' lives and happiness and this book strives to show just this.
Told in chapters switching between the girls' individual stories, the team as a whole and its training, and indeed author Ayub's own understanding and feelings about what it means to be Afghan-American, this had real potential. Unfortunately, to my mind, it was choppy and had awkward transitions and so I felt as if this missed out on what could have been a fascinating (and timely) story. The timeline itself was hard to follow. I never knew if the girls' stories were pre- or post-visit to the US, which made it difficult to determine if the prejudice against girls playing soccer was one that could be overcome or if it was too ingrained to allow the particular girl being revealed in the chapter to continue playing.
Each of the girls overcame a lot in order to don uniforms and take to the field. They were determined and inspiring and I felt badly for the girls who ultimately couldn't continue playing because of family or religious prohibitions. The personal stories were fascinating and I wish there had been more to them as they illuminate so very well the difficulties that Afghanistan faces politically, both in denying their girls and women full and unhindered citizenship but also the limitations, dangers, and misconceptions men there also face.
Ayub inserts her own feelings about creating this soccer program only briefly, mentions how the girls' chatter made her want to better learn one of the languages of her homeland, and reflects how their presence made her miss certain Afghani things and customs. But she never fully developed this line of thinking. Her search for self is alluded to but even though it would almost certainly have dovetailed nicely with the stories of the girls, Ayub drops that ball, not examining her feelings fully. This tentative delicacy in delving into the meat of her research into the girls, into Afghanistan itself, and into her own heart is pervasive throughout the book. In the end I thought that all parts of the story were short-changed, which is so unfortunate given the potential here. Each thing was touched on too briefly and without depth. I really wanted to find a gem here but I was left feeling frustrated by the way that this barely skimmed the surface of such a rich vein.
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.