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The Running Man by Gilbert Tuhabonye

Release date: 15th May, 2007
Publisher: John Blake Publishing

List Price: 12.99
Our Price: 8.57
You Save: 4.42 (34%)
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The Running Man
By Gilbert Tuhabonye
John Blake Publishing price: £8.57 (saving 34% on rrp)

Perhaps once every couple of years, we pick up a book which immediately demands our attention and very soon, we've devoured the first 50-60 pages. Many of us hear of books described as being 'unputdownable', or referred to as 'page-turners', but frankly, such descriptions would diminish Gilbert Tuhaboyne's quite compelling tale.

Tuhabonye has written a book with sport at its heart, although it could not be called a sports book in the conventional sense. In this instance, running became the writer's therapy, an understandable focal point of his life following an horrific confrontation with evil. But this is not a tale filled with psycho-babble, far from it; the reader is left to draw his own conclusions about the impact of what Tuhabonye witnessed as a schoolboy preparing for an exam must have had.

The book opens by cleverly intertwining details of Tuhaboyne's background and that of his family with flashbacks to one truly chilling day in October 1993.

Tuhaboyne's family are Tutsi, living in Burundi surrounded by other Tutsi and Hutu neighbours, although as they're generally better educated, it is the Tutsi who have held power since independence in 1962.

Nonetheless, life is tough, even for relatively affluent farmers, although for a developing runner, living 5,000 feet above sea level and carrying gallons of water up to his family's farm every morning ensures Gilbert adds strength to his inherent speed.

Family background completed, the next flashback takes us to the day of Gilbert's chemistry test, but there is a dramatic intervention when all of the day's exams are cancelled "due to unforeseen circumstances". For many of us waiting nervously to sit an exam, this would be cause for celebration; here, the sense of foreboding is palpable.

The 19-year-old Tuhabonye is conscious that something is not right. News comes through that the government has been overthrown; there'll be trouble, perhaps even riots as a consequence, but Gilbert's school is 60 miles from the capital, far from danger. At this point in his musings, he is taken aside by a teacher and the day's stark reality is revealed: the teacher believes the Hutus will attack the school as part of a co-ordinated response to the putsch.

It becomes evident that no Hutus, including teachers, have turned up for school, although the headmaster, a Hutu, explains the reason to Gilbert: "you killed our president. Now you must die." A rapidly organised attempt to march the Tutsi children from school begins, but the Hutus attack. Vivid descriptions of screams and chaos as children are hacked to death with machetes ring from the pages. Those who survive are then doused with petrol and set on fire.

Incredibly, Tuhabonye survived by hiding under smouldering bodies before he managed to literally run for his life. His running prowess became his undoubted saviour, although he encountered incredible pain before reaching the sanctuary of a hospital. Recuperating, he sets his mind on becoming a better runner and, not surprisingly, leaving Burundi.

Eventually, he is selected to attend an Olympic Development training camp in the US. It is a chance he grabs with both hands. He has remained in the States, his goal now Olympic qualification next year; anyone reading this book will hope he succeeds.

This is a quite amazing story; part history, part sport, underpinned by Tuhaboyne's incredible faith. Most of us will never endure what he had to face; for him to have emerged as a fine athlete on the cusp of Olympic qualification is a miracle in itself. Read it.

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