The Best Sports Autobiography in Years Is by an Athlete You've Probably Never Heard Of
David Foster Wallace's 1994 essay on the inherent disappointment of sports memoirs, "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart," is the definitive document on how athlete autobiographies seldom penetrate the surface. "Because top athletes are profound, because they make a certain type of genius as carnally discernible as it can ever get, these ghostwritten invitations inside their lives and their skulls are terribly seductive for book buyers," he writes. "However seductively they promise though, these autobiographies rarely deliver."
DFW would have loved I Am Zlatan (Random House, $16), ghosted by David Lagercrantz, translated by Ruth Urbom and released Tuesday in the United States, which tells the life story of Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The 400-page memoir, first published overseas in 2011 and later turned into an iPhone app (seriously), is the eminently readable history of a footballer renowned as much for his highlight-reel goals — recall that preposterous strike against England — as his comically outsized ego.
Ibrahimovic, of course, is the best player not at this year's World Cup. (Observed the 32-year-old striker after Sweden was eliminated from qualifying with a playoff-tie loss to Portugal: "One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing to watch.") Yet the memoir -- which traces Ibra's journey from harsh Malmö suburb to fame and fortune -- has been championed in literary circles as a memoir that both works within and subverts the genre.
I Am Zlatan, dubbed the "most compelling autobiography ever to appear under a footballer's name" and the finest immigration tale since Zadie Smith's White Teeth, was one of six books shortlisted for the prestigious August Prize in Sweden. It's also been called, by ESPN's Graham Hunter, "the height of self-indulgence."
One thing it's not, however, is yet another platitude-laden exercise in brand-building. Zlatan's complete lack of filter — and self-awareness — makes it compulsive, almost voyeuristic reading in an age of sanitized, image-obsessed pro athletes. Here are eight reasons why.