Literature | ‘The planet is a ball’ … certainly in Suriname


Paramaribo, Suriname | An itinerant search for football in the sweltering nether-zone of Suriname—hard to reach, its own authenticity as a country diminished by the locals—carries the reader through Daniel Titinger‘s 6,100-word narrative, “Kicking the Ball to Holland,” in the Virginia Quarterly Review (fall 07). What should football fans know of this pseudo-island, stuck to the northeast corner of South America? “Suriname produces soccer players the way Venezuela produces oil,” writes Titinger, editor-in-chief at the stunning literary magazine Etiqueta Negra (Black Label) in Peru.

The planet is a ball, I explain, and its movements are governed by strange laws. Why does Suriname produce brilliant soccer players? Why is there no professional soccer in Suriname? It’s hard to say. If the legend’s true, Suriname sires gods who are worshipped in the stadiums of Holland. However, the soccer back home is strictly amateur and no better known than Suriname itself. This could be the country’s greatest paradox: its prize exports kick soccer balls and carry Dutch passports. If these sons of Suriname were true ambassadors for their home country, the nation would shed its anonymity on the strength of what it no longer owns.

Titinger refers, of course, to Holland stalwarts Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and on and on. There are 150 Surinamese players in Holland, the country that in 1664 received the Caribbean outpost in exchange for New Amsterdam (Manhattan). The Netherlands as a football nation marches triumphant, while Suriname withers. Fellow travelers advise Titinger, in his essay, to summarize Suriname football with three words: “They always lose.”

Lingering on the Seedorf connection, Titinger meets Clarence’s father, Johan, with whom he visits the Clarence Seedorf Sports Complex—not yet open to the public. Lack of a suitable facility, which Seedorf and others are trying to rectify, is evident at the national football stadium. Titinger says that it “looks like an abandoned nail factory,” indicative of the amateur ethos promoted by the Surinaamse Voetbal Bond. Players “play for the sake of playing,” but “in the real world, they can’t beat anyone.”

Titinger maintains a similarly self-deprecating approach to the literary aspirations in Lima, capital of the nation with the lowest literarcy rate, after Haiti, in Latin America. The Suriname story first appeared in Etiqueta Negra, founded in 2002. Titinger calls it a “magazine for the distracted,” with a readership consisting of “high school students, university professors, retirees, depressed divorced women—anybody attracted to stories from a backward world” (Delfin Vigil, “A Magazine from an Unlikely Source, Peru, Aims High, Finds a Niche Spanning Continents, Generations,” San Francisco Chronicle, 21 Mar 06).

Peru does have a tradition of football writing (see David Wood, “Reading the Game: The Role of Football in Peruvian Literature,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 22 [Mar 05]: 266–84). Wood surveys some 20 works of Peruvian literature, dating from the late 1960s, in which football plays a significant role. Football writing would seem to be as Peruvian as Inca Kola, the national beverage, about which Titinger also has written.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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