Though the festivities surrounding the world’s most popular sport have ceased and the chants and roars for victory are now whispers in the wind, this week’s CLSC Young Readers selection, Keeper, by Mal Peet, will bring that passion of soccer back to Chautauqua.
At 4:15 p.m. today in the Garden Room of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall, Young Readers will be joined by morning lecturer Brian Winter and discuss his experiences in working with soccer phenomenon Pelé on his memoir, Why Soccer Matters (this week’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection) and his coverage of Brazilian culture as chief correspondent for Reuters.
In Keeper, readers will journey to the jungles of South America as soccer megastar and World Cup-winning goalkeeper El Gato sits down for an interview with a cynical reporter named Paul Faustino.
In the course of one evening, El Gato tells Faustino his life story complete with twists, turns and confessions — especially of his ghostly coach simply known as the “Keeper.”
It’s a haunting tale of determination, family and the power of learning to believe in oneself, and far expands the scope of many soccer stories. Trying to strike chords with all readers was purposeful, said Peet, a Carnegie Medal-winning author.
“The great thing about books is that they can involve you, excite you and absorb you into a subject that you thought you weren’t interested in,” Peet said. “I set out with the deliberate intention of writing a revolutionary new kind of soccer book, a book that broke all the rules, that girls would like and that wasn’t written as if it were for boys who didn’t like reading books. A book that wasn’t only about soccer but the important things as well. I realized that you couldn’t do that by just writing about people kicking a ball around a patch of grass.”
In addition to El Gato’s stories about training to become a keeper, lessons about culture, land conservation, the importance of family, and the development self-confidence are woven into the story.
“It was probably the best book about playing soccer that I could possibly write,” Peet said. “It’s essentially a book about family and fatherhood, and it’s really about growing up and about being in love with what you do. It’s also a book about conquering fear. At the beginning of the book we meet a boy who is isolated and excluded and by just choosing to be good at what he does he finds out who he is. It’s about self-belief but it’s also about being taught self-belief. It’s about having the good luck to meet someone who encourages you to believe in yourself.”
Although not everyone who aspires to be a soccer superstar will become one, Winter also hopes to share with the young readers this afternoon the importance self-belief and embracing personal talents.
“What it is is that you realize that you’re good at something,” Winter said. “Pelé talks about soccer in that context. He says, ‘Soccer let me travel the world and meet people and make decent money, but what really appealed to me most was the ability to realize that I was good at something, and the joy of that is really what is most worthwhile.’ [That is] a lesson that is universal — figuring out what you’re good at and practicing it.”