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REVIEW:  I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

REVIEW: I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the...

I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

I read an excerpt of this book on Deadspin and thought, what the heck. I’m bored with romance these days and entranced by the World Cup. I know very little about fútbol and spend most of the World Cup games asking the television what is going on and why no one ever tells me how much time is left in the match.

But I can’t stop watching despite the non stop irritation I have without knowing how much time is left in the game and I’ve gained some understanding such as what offsides means. I won’t say that this book lent me insight into the game so much as it gives an individual a peak inside the mind of a driven athlete at the top of his game. Some reviewers have said this is an immigrant’s tale although Zlatan was born in Sweden.

The memoir chronicles Zlatan’s rise from Swedish poverty to international soccer superstardom. He doesn’t hesitate to identify those he thinks were incompetent such as his Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola (then he got started on his philosophizing. I was barely listening. Why should I? That was advanced bullshit, about blood, sweat, and tears), and those he loved like the Inter Milan and REAL Madrid coach, José Mourinho, who he declared in the book he would die for and whose approval he sought in every game (“He built us up before matches. It was like theater, a psychological game. He might show videos where we’d played badly and say, “Look at this. So miserable! Hopeless! Those guys can’t even be you. They must be your brothers, your inferior selves,” and we nodded, we agreed. We were ashamed.”)

If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains.

After I read the book, I googled and read a few interviews with Zlatan. It seems clear to me he enjoys playing up the uber arrogant fútbol player persona but his actions are a mix of arrogance and boyish need for affirmation. On the one hand he wants you to know he’s arrived and on the other he’s constantly trying to prove himself. Other top tier athletes are notorious for stoking petty grievances into serious offenses for the sole purpose of keeping them hungry and motivated. Zlatan is no different. He stokes his anger, his feeling of inferiority, and his desire to be recognized into an on field rage that propels him down the field scoring goals like the one below.

I was the soccer star, but also the frightened kid in the tunnel again, the one who thought he’d make it if he just ran fast enough.

He’ll use anything, even the smallest slight–real or imagined–to win again. If you aren’t the type of person he admired, he didn’t think much of you and he definitely had a type he admired. He admires those who win at all costs. He admires strength but at the same time seems to be constantly testing those boundaries as if to say are you strong enough to stand with me? He admires skill, obviously, but he also is respectful of those he believed were more clever than he. I think that’s how he views Helena, his life partner.

The story of his romance with Helena, a career woman ten years his senior, read like a Harlequin. He saw her step out of cab, spitting angry and wondered to himself who is this woman? Initially she did not want to have anything to do with him. She wore suits and he ran around in his warmup gear.

She’d left home when she was seventeen and worked her way up, and I wasn’t exactly a superstar to her. Or as she put it, “Come on, Zlatan, you weren’t exactly Elvis who’d beamed in.” I was just a crazy guy to her who wore hideous clothes and was totally immature, and sometimes she’d tease me a bit.

He acted (admittedly) like a child, setting off fireworks and living in a swamp of messy clothes, video games, and trash.

…sometimes I just don’t know how she managed to be so patient with me. She’d been saddled with a little maniac. But she managed, she was strong, and I think she got to see some results too.

They kept their romance as secret as possible because Helena didn’t want the attention. And the press never really caught on because although she is a gorgeous blonde, she didn’t fit the football wife prototype. Even Zlatan felt that Helena was a stabilizing force in his life and he seems to also acknowledge she sacrificed a lot to be with him.

Eschewing alcohol because his father is alcoholic and drugs because he knows he has an addictive personality, Zlatan collects cars, sometimes watches (there’s an absolutely charming story about a watch, a stockbroker, a video game and what Helena calls Zlatan’s internet date), and video games. Zlatan is probably playing Call of Duty right now although he tries not to talk so as to not give himself away.

Zlatan acknowledges that he made mistakes, such as when he let his anger get the best of him causing him to be banned for a few games. Is he a good teammate? Perhaps not but he loves to win and he puts every ounce of himself out on the pitch to win but he also seems to be in it for himself, to win personal achievements, to strike off certain championships from his bucket list of wins. He doesn’t hesitate to rub in his success, but I wonder if that is partly due to him wondering if he belongs.

There had been a lot of Marco van Basten in my life. I’d inherited his shirt number and I was supposed to resemble him on the pitch and all that, and sure, it was flattering. I was starting to get tired of it, though. I didn’t want to be a new van Basten. I was Zlatan, nothing else. I wanted to scream, No, don’t bring that guy up again, I’ve heard enough about him. Sure, it was as cool as anything when he turned up in person—it was like, Wow! Is he talking to me?

When I was writing this review, I kept thinking that Zlatan is the type to go around and comment on reviews, disagreeing with the interpretation. 99% of the book seems like a response–a set the story straight sort of thing–to combat all that has been written about him in the press from the blow up with Guardiola (he deserved it)  to the kicking teammate Antonio Cassano in the head (it was a love tap).

It was absolutely the right book to read during the fervor of the  World Cup. Apparently Zlatan said that this year’s World Cup would be better if he was in it but Sweden was edged out in qualifying rounds to Portugal and thus we’ll miss the potential for kicks like this.

As sports memoirs go, this book was incredibly entertaining and very genuine. While Zlatan’s interpretation of events may be colored by his own selective memory and interpretation, it definitely felt honest. For fans of memoirs and fans of sports, I’d recommend this. I was riveted. B


* I know Zlatan was insulting about the US’s team but perhaps Tim Howard’s performance won him over.


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REVIEW:  Imaginary Lines by Allison Parr

REVIEW: Imaginary Lines by Allison Parr

Allison Parr Imaginary Lines

Dear Ms. Parr:

This book is definitely my favorite in the NY Leopards series of books. It has two tropes that I love — reunited lovers and friends to lovers.  There was one other thing that made it memorable for me. Both characters are Jewish and their faith and families played an important but not overwhelming role. It just served to remind me of all the cultural differences in our world and how very Anglo Saxon romances are that this particular aspect was memorable.

Tamar Rosenfeld has been in love with Abraham Krasner since the age of twelve. She even screwed up the courage to tell him so. He’d always known but as a young buck about to get drafted he didn’t have an interest in young Tamar, the daughter of a family friend.

When Tamar moves to New York as a new journalist for an online sports magazine, one of the beats she’ll cover is that of the NY Leopards. She doesn’t immediately reveal her past with Abe nor does she seek him out. She moves in with three other young women and makes up a list of things to do while she lives in New York including get over Abe Krasner.

Abe reaches out to her because her mother told his mother that she’d moved to Manhattan. Suffering a mix of excitement and trepidation, Tamar allows Abe back into her life.  Despite Tamar’s early feelings of rejection, I was super disappointed that she did not move on emotionally and mentally from Abe. I wished she had dated someone other than Abe and that she allowed him back into her life too quickly.  Tamar is a virgin and honestly if she had had at least one other sexual encounter I would have felt better about it. She does try to resist him but her friends, interested in having someone famous around, kind of thwarts her efforts.

While Abe’s excuse for why he rejected her made sense, I wanted to see him have to work harder to win her back.  While Tamar didn’t act like she had no backbone, I felt she was too pliable when it came to Abe. The internal emotional conflict frustrated me from that standpoint. Yet I couldn’t be unhappy entirely because I really liked Tamar and Abe, despite that initial rejection, was a lovely suitor.

The second half of the book relies more on an external conflict. Tamar is doing a piece on concussions and helmets in the football league. There’s a safer helmet available on the market but not every team uses them. A competing manufacturer just so happens to have an official sponsorship deal with the League, generally, and the Leopards specifically. The timeliness of this issue helped ground the story in realism. Concussion syndrome in the NFL is a big deal yet no one believes the actual League is doing more than lip service but worse, there are many players who want to play hard and win at all costs no matter what the long term repercussions may be.

Later in the book, Abe stands by Tamar in a very strong fashion which made up a bit for his earlier rejection. There was something endearing about the way that the two interacted. The longstanding friendship that morphed into something stronger and more intimate was sweet and tender. Of course, there are moments of typical possessiveness but I enjoyed those because they came at the right time in a way that reassured Tamar, and the reader, of Abe’s intentions.

His jaw firmed up, and in an instant he had pulled me flush against his body and kissed me so intensely all thought fled my mind, replaced with a perfect storm of heat and desire. His mouth played a symphony of pleasure against mine. It reverberated throughout my entire body until I was weak and clung to him.

When he raised his head, he was smiling in satisfaction, and I was utterly breathless. “What was that?”

“That,” he said, “was to let you know that you will never get me out of your system, Tamar Rosenfeld.”

You get scenes of past characters together as well as witness the wedding of the one non white couple referenced in the Leopards’ books.  Overall, this was a solid B- read for me. I would have given it a stronger grade had I not felt like Tamar was in stasis for all of her young life, just waiting for Abe’s kiss to awaken her. B-


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