Powerful, thought-provoking, and filled with the love of the game, St. John of the Midfield by Garasamo Maccagnone is a literary fiction lover’s dream.
Told entirely as a flashback, Mario Santini begins by retelling the story of the night Bulgarian soccer great Georgi “Bobo” Stoikov shared with him how he and his brother Jordan, jumped from a speeding train to escape from Communist Bulgaria in the hopes of living the American Dream. All is lost when Jordan and Bobo are injured during the escape, but Bobo satisfies his love of the game by teaching youth soccer to travel teams. When Mario’s son Luca joins Bobo’s team, it sets in motion an intense one-sided rivalry between Bobo and a man from his past, which ultimately leads to Bobo’s death.
As a parent to a son who played youth sports, I can attest to the realism found within the pages of St. John of the Midfield–when the desire to win is so strong, that people do unspeakable things all in the name of victory. Opening the story with Bobo telling the story of his defection to Mario is pure genius, as it immediately draws the reader in and makes Bobo a sympathetic character. And the challenges Mario deals with as he tries to be a good man despite the ties to his Sicilian crime family, speak eloquently to the struggles all people deal with as they move through life. While a little heavy on the similies for my taste, this is an excellent read.
In St. John of the Midfield Garasamo Maccagnone combines youth soccer, the Sicilian mob, and the frailities of the human condition to create an entertaining and all too realistic portrait of youth sports that all adults will enjoy.