America is anomalous, as insular as its two oceans suggest. Consider the game known stateside as soccer and elsewhere as football. An American would struggle to name a global soccer star, despite their commanding astronomical salaries and divine admiration. The Sun and Other Stars, by Chicago author Brigid Pasulka, offers a glimpse into the glamour and goofiness of the so-called "beautiful game.”

In the Italian town of San Benedetto, Etto, a butcher's son, struggles to resist the delirium that soccer inflicts on the citizenry. He instead frets about the untimely deaths of his brother and mother—by moped and suicide, respectively. More pointedly, he is unsure he belongs, not least because his father is determined to make Etto a butcher as well.

Etto's sun-soaked stasis is disturbed by the arrival of a renowned Ukrainian soccer player, Yuri, and his fetching sister, Zhuki. The callow butcher-to-be is smitten, and his bumbling attempts at winning Zhuki's love are accompanied by attempts at mastering soccer under Yuri's tutelage. Eventually Etto realizes that soccer gives hope to the downtrodden, which may explain the sport's weak hold on rich America. Etto increasingly appreciates his town and confronts the ghosts of his departed loved ones.

The Sun and Other Stars bursts with a Mediterranean ease and exuberance.

The Sun and Other Stars bursts with a Mediterranean ease and exuberance. It can be very funny, though sometimes not funny enough, as the author revels in digs at other nationalities, from tight-fisted Germans to overfed Americans. The Italians don't escape either, with elders bemoaning the corruption of soccer by excessive pay, while they themselves act as farcically as their politicians.

But this is no elegy to soccer's past. Like Etto, the prose is energetic and carefree, reminiscent perhaps of Dave Eggers or Salman Rushdie. This lighthearted and affectionate novel could help transform soccer into more than just an adjective that precedes “mom.”

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