Gwendolyn Oxenham’s book details the three years she spent traveling the world, meeting new people, and playing pickup soccer with complete strangers. She talks with Bill Littlefield about Finding the Game.

Bill’s thoughts on Finding the Game: Three Years, Twenty-Five Countries, and the Search for Pickup Soccer

Gwendolyn Oxenham was a good enough soccer player at Duke University to entertain dreams of playing professionally.

When that didn’t happen, she started working to become a writer. Her success is evident throughout Finding the Game. The book chronicles the travels of Oxenham and three companions as they played soccer in Brazil with girls who “laugh the whole game,” and with prisoners in Bolivia where “we didn’t meet any monsters.”

“Here we have nothing,” the inmates tell Oxenham. “Our life is to play.”

The travelers find a game in the sand “backdropped by the Great Pyramids of Giza,” and play with Tokyo businessmen during their lunch hour on the city’s rooftops.

“I work. To earn money,” one of the Japanese players says. “Only so that I can kick a ball. Soccer is the center of my life.”

Any reader inclined to enjoy energetic writing about soccer will love this book. But Oxenham has brought to this extraordinary project not only a player’s enthusiasm, but also a thoughtful writer’s sense of humor and eye for the magnificently unlikely moment that takes her endeavor beyond the game.

Waiting in the security line at the airport in Tehran, anxious that the guards may find and confiscate the film they’ve been shooting in Iran and elsewhere, Oxenham is at first concerned when the officials take away the ball she intends to carry on to the plane. But the concern disappears when the guard taps the ball to her colleague.

“Here we are in the Tehran airport,” Oxenham writes, “and two fifty-year- old women, government security officials, are juggling the ball and giggling. All over the world, from the ghettos of Argentina to the border control in Togo, the ball has done this.”

Finding the Game suggests powerfully, if playfully, that we are connected. All of us. In that suggestion, there is hope.