Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams
Not what I’d normally read, but I devoured this one.
Publisher: Tamarind Books
Based in part on real events, this follows Deo and his older brother Innocent after the massacre of their family and village in Zimbabwe. Innocent was starved of oxygen at birth so he is mentally handicapped and Deo is charged with looking after him as they face a horrific journey from Zimbabwe to the safety of South Africa. They tackle refugee camps and the poverty within them and a robber-infested wildlife park only to find that their life will be no better in South Africa. Moving from place to place as xenophobia chases them, they finally reach Cape Town and manage to take refuge with other refugees in a surrogate family under a bridge. Until that is the residents of parts of Cape Town rise up in xenophobic anger at the refuges and tragedy strikes once more.
Not one for younger readers because of the events this book is based on (the Cape Town riots) this is a harrowing read. It’s physically hard to read the tragedies of Deo and Innocents’ life in and escape from Zimbabwe, the more so because you know that these were recent events and this sort of thing is still going on. Despite football being a running theme in the book, it will not put off any readers with no interest in the game, or at least it didn’t me. That said though, this is definitely not for younger readers – I know sometimes I’ve talked to kids who are at primary school and reading teen books, which is fine, but this should not be one of them. Apart from the violence in some of the chapters, I’m not entirely sure primary school kids or younger teens would get as much from this book – I know I remember reading a particular book before when I was too young for it and I just completely missed huge swathes of the plot because I hadn’t been able to understand what was happening. It took a friend explaining it to me years later before I realised what I had apparently completely missed and I would not want another child to read this and miss huge chunks of it because they tackled it too soon. It’s a book that needs to be waited for a little.
Innocent is just as his name suggests – his mental handicap leaves him with the mind of a child and Deo is very much the adult in their relationship. It only makes Deo and Innocent’s plight the more gripping, as Innocent is left confused by why they are doing exactly what they’re doing at any given moment and it’s left to Deo, the younger brother, to explain it to him without frightening him, an often almost impossible task. It’s so hard to read of a child having to act the adult as his world collapses around him and everything seems to conspire against the brothers. I can’t forget the wild dash over the wildlife park, hoping against hope not to encounter any animals or, worse, any robbers who’ll take advantage of desperate refugees, such as the teenager with one leg being piggybacked by his elderly father to safety.
Astonishingly though, although harrowing the story doesn’t end up being too depressing. It’s a story of hope as much as hardship, something again which can be attributed to the naive character of Innocent. You can almost feel yourself growing lighter at times as you read, it’s like you’re attached to a swinging arrow that goes from one extreme to the other as you read about him.
I can’t say that I loved this book because it’s content makes that seem…. well, incredibly tactless for one. However, it is one I would want to pick up and read again. Any reader with the tiniest interest in modern humanitarian issues needs to pick this book up. Any reader without an interest should still pick it up – it’s a cracking read that will leave you desperate to find out the brothers’ fate.