Review: This Love is Not For Cowards, by Robert Andrew Powell

This Love is Not For Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez is, on its surface, a story about sports–specifically, the Indios, Juarez’s premier-league soccer team. We come to know their players and management, and their triumphs and defeats, as they are followed over the course of a season. Author Robert Andrew Powell pushes the story further, though, using the team to tackle Juarez itself (often called “the murder capital of the world”) and why so many people love and even are hopeful for the city’s future.

I’ll get my (minor!) complaints out of the way first. Some of the aspects of the book I did not enjoy (such as Powell’s slight fetishization of the danger of living in Juarez, and the somewhat shallow exploration of the historical roots of drug cartels) were, in the context of everything else, understandable. I do feel that there is a certain kind of person–and honestly, I’m one of them–who is attracted to places and studies that are gritty or difficult, in an attempt to gain some measure of authenticity, of overcoming challenges, of shattering what is expected of you. (To be fair, he snaps out of this by the book’s end…it just takes him a while to fully, emotionally acknowledge the toll Juarez living has had on him.) And the history and evolution of Mexico’s drug cartels is extremely complex; anything other than an entire book would probably not be sufficient to adequately explain it, and that wasn’t the aim of this text.

What I appreciated was that this was a much different way for me to explore issues of neoliberalization, life on the U.S. – Mexico border, and what it means to be tied (emotionally, economically, familial-y) to a city consumed by violence. Powell speaks not only to the Indios players, but also to other native and non-native Juarenses, and some of their particular stories are weaved throughout the text. I loved experiencing even a little glimpse into the daily life of a Juarez-based priest or businessman, and shuddered when reading about how drug violence suffused nearly every aspect of their lives–even while the violence itself became normalized. It was very powerful. And the hope and love the fans felt for the Indios was truly beautiful! Powell quickly falls in with a group of superfans and his adventures with them provide welcome levity to a book that references many terrible crimes. I definitely fell under the charms of the brave, hardworking Indios, and hoped for them to be enough to transform the fear and anger plaguing Juarez, even as the more rational part of my mind recognized it will take much more than a soccer team to free the city from drug cartels.

For readers who want to learn more about life in Juarez, I think this book represents a good place to start. While it may help to be a fan of soccer, it’s definitely not necessary! The trust and love the players have of the game certainly comes through even for us non-fans, and Powell is a very engaging writer.

I received this book for review from Bloomsbury USA through NetGalley. It came out February 28, 2012 and is available now!

Bookwanderer Rating: Four out of five stars

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