From football to the mysterious

2008-02-01 00:00

PAUL Faustino is South America's premier soccer writer and is ready for La Nacion's scoop of a lifetime as he sits down to interview the legendary El Gato, the world's greatest goalkeeper. Between them on the table is the chunky, gold World Cup trophy. It is modern-day Brazil.

If you're like me and the very mention of football makes you queasy, don't be put off yet. Although there is plenty of gritty, insightful football talk and match postmortems, the story takes a turn towards the mysterious as Faustino suddenly realises that this is no ordinary interview.

El Gato tells the story of his life growing up in a loggers' camp in the rainforest and his chance meeting with a spirit of the forest who we later find out is one of the Lost Ones - a made-up legendary 1950 Brazilian team whose plane crashed on the way to the Cup finals in Rio and disappeared, never to be heard of again. (In truth, Uruguay beat Brazil 2-1 in the 1950 Cup final, plunging the country into a state of national mourning.)

Perhaps saved from that embarrassment, the spirit teaches the gangly teenager to keep not just goal but also his calm, transforming him from the clumsy La Ciguena (the stork) to El Gato (the cat), and the talk of the town, or continent, after winning the Wold Cup.

Peet, who won the Carnegie award for his book Tamar, originally envisaged the award-winning Keeper as a graphic novel. It won the 2004 Branford Boase Award and was short-listed for the Nestlé Children's Book Prize, and was a conscious attempt to shift the world of football into another dimension.

Targeting a young adult market, Peet has tried to blend soccer, the supernatural and the new age, self-help genre. It works to a certain extent, considering that in parts of South America, and elsewhere, soccer, religion and magic do overlap. This coming-of-age tale has a stab at green conscietisation as well - the forest is being cut down - but Peet could have developed this angle more. He could have developed El Gato's rich family and village life more too. That probably wasn't his intention - building Faustino into a realisable character for future Faustino books - probably was. Nevertheless, it's a fast-paced read and could feasibly provide inspiration for a young, budding goalie-to-be.

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