I was born in North Carolina and went to N.C. State, therefore basketball is my heritage. North Carolina has four traditional powerhouses in Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, as well as N.C. State. I relished the evenings in Reynolds Coliseum shouting support for the Wolfpack. John Grisham is a lifelong basketball fan who traveled to Chapel Hill, where his daughter attended college, or Charlottesville, where he lives, to see ACC games.
So, Sooley is likely a labor of love for Grisham. He writes the action on the court like a sports announcer. However, the story is more than play action. It is a human drama of life we know in the United States set in juxtaposition to that in the war-torn South Sudan. The central character is Samuel Sooleymon, a fictional character likely inspired by real life players Manute Bol from Sudan and Mamadi Diakite from Guinea.
Unlike those players, Grisham puts Samuel in something of less than a top tier school, N.C. Central, located in Durham just like that other school, Duke. He did a lot of research about that school and its basketball program, a great deal of research on Sudan and the refugee camps in Uganda.
But I knew none of that when I read Sooley. It read like a real story, in part because so much of it is real, the suffering of the people of Sudan, the escape of a raw talent that makes it big in U.S. basketball, and unfortunately, the extinguishing of a promising life cut short.
Sooley is an engaging read. You need not watch basketball to enjoy it.