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Last Updated: Friday, 22 June 2007, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Book review: 'The Running Man'
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Thanks to everyone who emailed the BBC Sport website wanting to review Gilbert Tuhabonye's autobiography, The Running Man.

Book cover

We had a fantastic response, with hundreds of would-be reviewers volunteering their services.

We chose just two, but there will also be plenty of other opportunities to review the latest publications from the sporting world.

Coming up will be 'Barry: The Story of Motorcycling Legend Barry Sheene' and Alex Higgins's autobiography 'From the Eye of the Hurricane: My Story'.

606: DEBATE

Anyway, here's what our reviewers had to say about 'The Running Man' - and don't forget you can add your own comments via the 606 website.


Considering the sheer determination and grit involved in middle and long distance running, it should be no surprise to find that 2008 Olympic hopeful and professional track coach Gilbert Tuhabonye is an extremely committed and determined individual.

What probably will come as a surprise to readers of his autobiography who aren't already familiar with his life story is the sheer enormity of the obstacles Gilbert has overcome in his life to arrive at his goal of becoming a world class runner.

Born in the troubled developing nation of Burundi, Gilbert enjoyed a peaceful rural childhood which he describes as idyllic. Certainly his descriptions of banana skin sledding in his native countryside offer a poignant counterpoint to the brutal and tragic events described later in the book.

Compared to your average sports autobiography, 'The Running Man' is less of a breath of fresh air, more a tank of pure oxygen

Gilbert is a part of the Tutsi tribe and was caught up in a horrific massacre perpetrated by local Hutus. The only survivor of the attack on Lycee Kibimba, Gilbert survived by hiding in a recently dug mass grave and a pile of smouldering corpse, escaping with horrific burns to most of his body.

The shocking events at Gilbert's high school are depicted in alternating chapters with his upbringing, eventually moving on to his life after the attack.

The style emphasises the brutal nature of Gilbert's experience and makes his determination to return to the sport he loves and his miraculous success even more impressive.

My one grievance with the book is the writing style, which is austere to the point of dryness on occasion. That said, the issues dealt with here are serious enough to merit a straightforward style lacking in pretensions.

Compared to your average sports autobiography, 'The Running Man' is less of a breath of fresh air, more a tank of pure oxygen.

It's incredibly refreshing to read the story of a man who has so much reason to consider himself of extreme importance, but comes across as so humble.

Gilbert's story isn't just an inspiration; it also helps promote a greater understanding of what happened in Burundi and why events like that can happen. I'd recommend this book not just to fans of athletics, but to absolutely anyone.

Rating:

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Alasdair Glen, Dundee


The Running Man tells Gilbert Tuhabonye's unique story, from his childhood in Burundi and his emergence as an athlete of international calibre at a young age, through the appalling events as he was swept up in a coup in October 1993, to his new life as a coach and aspiring Olympian in the USA.

The book turns on a single day, when the 17-year-old Tuhabonye was herded into a classroom at his school with fellow Tutsis, before members of the rival Hutu tribal faction set the building alight.

As the pivotal moment in his life, the first 190 pages of this 260-page autobiography alternates chapters about his life up to that point, with the gripping account of that day when his own classmates and relay team members mutilated fellow students and burned many of them alive. Tuhabonye was the only survivor.

The Running Man has been retitled for the UK market. Its original title was 'This Voice in My Heart: A Runner's Memoir of Genocide, Faith, and Forgiveness'.

I would have preferred to learn more about how he rebuilt his life after the massacre, but the events after 1993 are dealt with in the manner of an extended epilogue

The US title gives a clearer idea of the nature of the book. It is not really about running - we are not told, for example, how Tuhabonye went from national champion at 400m and 800m as a student, to a marathon runner aiming for qualification for the 2008 Olympics - but running is clearly not a simple physical issue for Tuhabonye. He describes how 'I had to use my running skills to spread God's message.'

Faith is clearly an important part of Tuhabonye's story, but the desire to show how his worldview and love of running developed does lead him (or his ghostwriter Gary Brozek) to dwell perhaps too much on his childhood.

There are extended descriptions of the farmer's life in Burundi, which tend to read a little like a clichéd African idyll: the local traditions of singing and drumming, the beauty of his native language, and his amazement at seeing a car stereo all receive somewhat heavy-handed descriptions.

I would have preferred to learn more about how he rebuilt his life after the massacre, but the events after 1993 are dealt with in the manner of an extended epilogue, with a list of the people who helped him in the USA.

As a book it is not altogether successful, and I'm sure that some readers would find its overt religiosity and cod philosophy ('it is these contradictions that make us human') a little distracting.

But that said the central narrative of the massacre is gripping, and Tuhabonye's achievement in not only surviving but rebuilding his life and career as an athlete is a stunning and inspiring one.

Rating:

Six stars

Seb Falk, Warwick


The shelves seem to be packed with survivors' tales these days, as writing becomes an ever-more popular form of therapy after trauma.

But the mere fact Gilbert Tuhabonye is alive at all to write his book is nothing short of remarkable.

Now based in Texas, the Burundi-born distance runner was the only survivor of a gruesome massacre at his school in 1993 when the tribal conflict between the rival Hutu and Tutsi groups which caused the Rwandan Civil War spilled over into his country.

Tuhabonye survived by hiding under piles of burning bodies and literally running for his life.

His life-long passion for athletics helped him escape death and earned him a second shot at life when he was selected for an Olympic development camp in America, where he now lives and works.

The book is not some sort of American Dream, Rocky-with-running-spikes cliché about his struggle from nothing

But the book is not some sort of American Dream, Rocky-with-running-spikes cliché about his struggle from nothing - Tuhabonye has too much respect for his homeland.

On the contrary, he speaks with great love and pride about his upbringing and the country he left behind, albeit with the bittersweet twist that some people's resentment of his success in America means he cannot return there.

But the harrowing description of the massacre, as the school split along tribal lines and friendship went out the windows, is hard to get out of your mind. The fact it was instigated by his headmaster makes it all the more shocking.

The poet George Herbert said "Living well is the best revenge," and that could almost be a subtitle for Tuhabonye's book.

His unbreakable spirit helped him face death and move on to a new life, taking him from the charred shell of burned out murder scene in Burundi to the White House, to meet then President Clinton.

In 1996, three years after his enemies tried to burn him to death, Tuhabonye carried the Olympic torch through Birmingham, Alabama on its way to Atlanta.

Next year he hopes to be near the Olympic flame again, in Beijing, and it would not come as a surprise to anyone who reads this remarkable book to see him there. If you can out-run death, then what do you have to fear from the living?

Rating:

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Julian Shea, BBC Sport



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