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on November 29, 2003
Inside there is a great story of uncelebrated heroes, and villians, behind what might be considered the more mundane situation -- that a soccer team from a small village manages promotion to a B league with the season-long goal of surviving. Along the way, there are many great details of the local players, supporters, life within Serie B soccer, and the fabric of society in a small, working-class Italian hillside town. Set on this smaller stage, the story has it all -- life, death, compassion, greed, character, and corruption -- woven together with many amusing and curious subtexts and insights about a "strainero" trying to fit in to a whole other culture and language.
The story is a great success at real-life drama. The only unfortunate part is that the story slowly unravels how much the author completely blew a real opportunity to fit in more and delve deeper beneath the surface of his adopted society -- opting more and more to impose his own self-righteous mindset and judgement on matters (he was as much a "bulldozer" as he accused the soccer team's manager of being) rather than taking a step back to learn more about the inner workings of another culture. This isn't ethnocentrism or even an example of American arrogance -- the author simply self-destructed at his mission to respect, observe, and ask in order to learn and report.
Even so, the book is a great success in spite of the author's mistakes. He gained access to a remote, close-knit community amidst the throes of of several major events -- also capturing moments of great humor. The author's detailed accounting of his conversations and experiences there makes it a fascinating story in its own right.
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on September 5, 2003
I don't want to spoil it for people who may read, so I'll try to beat around the bush.
I would have liked a follow up chapter of "where are they now" and "what happened to the team". If anybody knows, please email
McGinnis leaves the town with a sour taste in his mouth, nonetheless, it would have brought closure to find out what happened to these people. Much like if you were ever dumped by someone, life goes on, but you do wonder "what ever happened to such and such"
Beside that, good reading, lots of great stories about Italian life, culture, geography, history. Good book for soccer fans, great book for a study in small town life and big city problems.
I was disappointed in lack of pictures as well. Not even a team shot. I guess with the ending and the accusations, I understand why, but still disappointed.
The writer is very opinionated and inserts himself into the story more often than not. This is not a fly on the wall recount.
Recommendation: worth a read, but prepare yourself for some very slanted ideas and some self promotion. It seems like there was even a better story out there, but it just wasn't captured all the way... maybe 80%
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on June 5, 2003
This was one of the few books that I bought on a whim. I saw it prominently displayed on a shelf at my local bookstore and immediately recognized the potential for a great story. As a lifelong fan of the game as well as Italian culture (I'm an American but lived off of the Ligurian coast for three years as a child), I couldn't wait to read a book that I thought would strengthen these passions. Instead, what I got was the classic story of an Ugly American. McGinniss consistently revelled in his ignorance of the foreign behaviors that he stumbled upon, conveying a clear disrespect for the people in this story. I'm all for writers taking on foreign cultures and relating their unique aspects to readers. But such endeavers require subtlety and the ability to observe without interfering--qualities that McGinniss does not possess. For me, this subtext completely overwhelmed what could have been a very good story. I rarely quit reading a book, feeling that I need to be open to perspectives that I am not completely attuned to. However, McGinniss gave me one of those very rare opportunites to permanently drop an unfinished book, guilt free. I can't say I'm grateful.
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on April 9, 2003
It is easy to compare two recent books about Italian football written by foreigners. Both follow a full 38-match season of teams that are, at times, surprising and mediocre, sometimes simultaneously. Avoiding relegation to a lower division is the major impetus for both teams, not a national championship. One is coming off a miracle, the other hoping for and heading for one. And there are significant differences. Unlike Tim Parks in �A season with Verona,� McGinniss has direct access to the players and coach, although only brief, menacing contact with the owner. Parks acted as a fan, lived and died with the team while he stayed with his family, became very familiar with other fans, and lived a normal home life between matches. McGinniss lived alone in a cold apartment, away from his family in America; he has too much time on his hands. Parks had been a lifelong fan from Britain. McGinniss came to the game much later in life. And it shows.
The �miracle� of Castel di Sangro, a town of 5,000 hearty souls high in the mountains east of Rome, occurs before McGinniss arrives. What transpires while he is there might be better described as tragedy, without farce. There is death, drama, drugs and sex. Travel to play matches offers some glimpses of Italian life and land, but very little. He is more than a little pleased with his self-evaluation of the Castel di Sangro players, and not shy about saying so. McGinniss irritatingly inserts himself into disputes and advises the coach on players and tactics. He tries to play agent for a promising goalkeeper, but can�t convince the American coach to take him. He can identify a rotten, corrupt referee like an expert. He begins to read his own worshipful (if invented) clippings from the Italian press, who marvel at the very idea of an American writer spending a year with such a minor league team. He even seems to flirt, at the end, with the idea of earning a coach�s license himself (Italian coaches need to be licensed). Yet he can�t see the inevitable betrayal that closes the season.
McGinniss�Italian improves with time, but it is not clear that his judgment or insight does. McGinniss� intimacy with the players seems genuine yet there are times when the players seem to mock him or to treat him with the disbelief his assertions sometimes deserve. There is more a series of events, matches than a real story here.
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on March 17, 2003
This book is part travel journal, personal diary, sociological study, and football/sport analysis.
This is a fantastic, eloquent and elegant account of a small, rural, provincial village in the mountains of Abruzzo struggling to find a place in the sophisticated and rationalist world of Italian professional soccer.
It recounts the first season of Castel di Sangro in the Serie B (Italy's Second Division).
The story telling is warmly told, as the author, an American looking-in, recounts the internal struggles of the team, player and manager conflicts, internal village power struggles, and how a remote village strives to come to grips with keeping face when in the steady glare of the national spotlight.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is about soccer/football, but it is so much more. As an account of a small town football club it is a riveting read. But the book is so much more. Football is virtually the background scenario. There is more to be enjoyed from a wide range of characters and personalities that inhabit the town and the football club, and how they deal with all the various pressures.
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on February 22, 2003
(Reprinted Review From 1999 - reprinted upon demand)
McGinniss is entertaining as he jumps headfirst into -- and quickly becomes a part of -- some aspects of Italian culture that Americans are sure to find interesting: the soccer craze, small-town Abruzzese living, the bonds of family and friends, the patrone of Italian business and mafia, and even the fiesty and periodically outrageous Italian media. As one who has ancestors from Abruzzo and who has spent years living in Italy, Joe McGinnis does a wonderful job of sharing these aspects with the reader within the context of a true and interesting story which keeps one turning the pages.
Incidentally, shortly after reading this book during the summer of '99, I decided to make a pilgrimage to Castel di Sangro. McGinnis' descriptions of the place are quite accurate, although I felt the city had a casual and rundown beauty about it (McGinnis characterizes the place as nondescript). The final stop of my trek was at Marcella's pizzeria. While I did not know the name of her establishment, I simply asked people I met on the street "Where is Marcella's pizzeria?" They all knew, and were able to point me in the right direction.
I must have been the first person to visit Marcella since the publication of the book: she seemed quite surprised and flattered to see me. At first, she thought I was a friend of McGinnis, and seemed a bit puzzled that someone would come to Castel di Sangro simply on the basis of reading Joe's book. McGinnis had sent her a complimentary copy of the book, but she had never read it since she does not understand English. She politely asked me "So what does Joe say about me in the book?" When I told her that she was his most favorite person, she smiled broadly, pulled out her cell phone and address book, and began dialing McGinnis' phone number. She reached Joe's wife and told her about my visit. Although the pizzeria was closed at the time, Marcella offered me food and drink, which I graciously declined. We had a few laughs about the "miracle", I obtained an autograph for my book, and managed to obtain a few pictures of us near the Castel di Sangro team portrait which still adorns the pizzeria walls. A truly kind and molto gentile woman, who sent me on my way with a big kiss and a hug.
Thanks, Joe McGinnis, for sharing an interesting world which most Americans would never otherwise have the benefit of experiencing. Although I was privileged to receive a firsthand glance of this world during my pilgrimage, the reader of "Miracle of Castel di Sangro" can, thanks to this wonderful book, enjoy a similar glance without ever having to make the 2 1/2 hour drive from Rome.
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on February 20, 2003
Any aficionado of soccer, Italy, or gripping stories will enjoy Joe McGinniss� The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. Set in a remote town in the mountains of Abruzzo, Castel di Sangro is a highly unlikely place to find a winning professional soccer team, especially one that wins in what is possibly the world�s most competitive soccer league. With McGinniss� vivid and brutally honest narration of his year-long immersion into Castel di Sangro life, the reader can experience what it�s like to live among a professional Italian soccer team. The reader will not only be moved by the warmth, grit, and carattere (character) of the Italians but also disappointingly surprised by their propensity for being distant, indirect, and stubborn. Even more disturbing to the reader are the occasional glimpses into the pervasiveness of corruption, even in the glorious game of il calcio. In the end, the reader is left with a more intimate knowledge of life in Italy today and a highly dramatic and entertaining story of a previously unknown team and their unexpected, yet hard-earned, success.
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on September 15, 2002
Most of the criticism of this book is aimed at the author's inappropriate application of american sensibilities to Italian calcio.
This may be a fair criticism, but to me, this was an interesting part of the book. Sure, McGinniss seems a bit overbearing at times (though hardly an 'Ugly American' as some here have implied). But the story told from this point of view makes it even more interesting.
In the end this book is more than just the rags-to-riches story of a minor league Italian soccer team. It's about immersion in another culture, and finding out that even the most knee-jerk liberal american sensibilities won't shield one from being occasionally judgemental about what one finds. In the end, the author is clearly in love with Italy, Italian calcio, and Castel di Sangro---for better and for worse.
For what it's worth, I'm an american soccer fan who enjoys learning about other cultures and languages. I think that most people with these sets of interests will enjoy this book.
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on July 6, 2002
This is now the second book I've read by McGinniss, and I'm beginning to notice a trend in the stories he tells. In each book, he has started with some sort of declaration that he is going to act as an observor to some event and write as objectively as possible about that event (in this case, the unexpected season of a small town team in higher ranks of Italian soccer). However, it seems that McGinniss can't figure out how to remain objective. In each story I've read, especially The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro, he goes from being an observor to being a part of the story. In this book, it's quite fascinating how he was constantly manuevering to make himself a decision-maker and play-caller during their games. He was constantly giving advise, whether requested or not, to the players, coaches, owners, and family members both on the field and off the field. I don't have a doubt that his presence and his actions effected the play of the team, for better or worse. By the end of the book, you got the impression that McGinniss was a very important part of this town and its soccer team. I'm not sure if this was really the case, or if the reader merely gets that impression from reading McGinniss's somewhat self-centered writing.
McGinniss's self-glorification notwithstanding, this is a highly enjoyable read. The reader really does have the feeling of being in the thick of things, rooting and cheering for the underdogs. In spite of his obviousley skewed and self-centered style of writing, McGinniss does have a very intense and active tone of writing that makes reading his books a page-turning pleasure. I may not think that highly of McGinniss as a person, but I sure enjoyed The Miracle of Castel di Sangro.
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on November 26, 2001
At some early stage of this work, either McGinniss or his publisher must have realized that a straightforward account of an Italian soccer team struggling to hang on at the second highest level of professional play would be a tough sell in the American market, no matter how "miraculous" their arrival at Serie B might have been. So initially this is more of a "fish out of water" tale, with the frequently bumbling and overbearing McGinniss trying to work his way into the good graces of his hosts in the small, remote Italian town where the author's sudden passion for soccer has led him. Soon, however, dramatic events in this sleepy town, many humorous but also some tragic, take over the forefront, and this diary of a season spent with the team quickly becomes engaging and compelling. This is not to say that McGinniss becomes any less bumbling or overbearing, and it reflects a certain kind of courage that he honestly portrays this despite some evidence that later reflection has at long last provided a degree of self-awareness of the frequently inappropriate behavior caused by his new-found fanaticism combined with some pre-existing self-righteousness. But though the author's strong presence is occasionally distracting and his research at times seems a bit rushed, he also provides a fascinating look into a world unknown to most, particularly among an American audience, and I certainly found myself sharing to some degree his emotional bond with the fortunes of the team. While this book would appeal most strongly to those with a passing interest in soccer, I could easily recommend it as well to anyone who enjoys brisk travel narratives or other non-fiction accounts.
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