LABOR & THE ARTS: Sooley – a novel of basketball, immigrant workers and refugees


Retired Director
Bread & Roses Missouri

I am a “died in the wool” John Grisham fan, let me get that right out in front. In my opinion, he is the best writer of legal mysteries in several decades, with 37 novels published and many hitting the top of the best seller lists for weeks on end, and a few turned into movies.

But once in a while, he departs from mysteries to write a novel about one of his favorite sports.

His first was Calico Joe, a baseball story in which a young man dreams of becoming a professional baseball player. Grisham says he gave up his own dream of being a baseball player when, at the age of 18, a “hostile” pitcher aimed a beanball at him and narrowly missed doing him real harm.

Despite that narrow escape, Grisham has continued to have a “lifelong passion” for baseball. As testimony to that passion, his support of Little League activities includes the building of a $3.8 million youth baseball complex in Charlottesville, Va., where he now lives.

Grisham has also become a supporter of the University of Virginia basketball team, the Virginia Cavaliers, otherwise known as the Wahoos. He can be seen regularly sitting courtside at basketball games. And it was certainly his basketball passion that led him to write Sooley, his most recent novel.

Grisham’s most recent sports center novel, Sooley is a basketball story, but it is much more than that. 

Oh, there is more than enough basketball talk to satisfy the most hardcore basketball fan, and done well enough to initiate the uneducated non-sports fan like me! What kept me reading late into the night, however, was the counterplot.

Sooley begins in a remote village in South Sudan where 17-year-old Samuel Sooleymon is getting ready for his country’s national basketball tryouts that will take him to America looking for a basketball scholarship and, of course, fame and glory.

I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story…suffice to say Sooley, in addition to being a good novel, taught me a lot about immigrant worker and refugee issues. As the founding chair of the Missouri Immigrant & Refugee Advocates many years ago, that is saying a lot! I hope you enjoy this novel as much as I did.

(Joan Suarez retired as regional director and international vice president of UNITE HERE in 2002, after which she volunteered with Jobs With Justice, becoming the chair of the Worker Rights Board. She was founding chair of Missouri Immigrant & Refugee Advocates in 2003, and the founding director of Bread & Roses Missouri in 2015. She retired – again – in 2021.)


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