guest review: Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron, from Pops

I spotted this title when it was released (in January) and bought it for my Pops – he’ll explain why that was an obvious move, below – and he has graciously written us a review. I’m always glad to have his insightful and well-written book reviews! With no further ado, Pops.

I am a runner; and for more than 3 decades I have been casually collecting fiction having something to do with running. This is a very small niche; so you either can’t be too selective as a literary critic, or you end up with a very small collection. I am such a glutton for the subject that I have read through all levels of writing expertise top to bottom, usually finding “average” entertainment value – and usually centered on running, with a story woven in. All of which makes it pretty special to enjoy the occasional literary gem on this narrow bookshelf.

Even at first mention, the title Running the Rift had my attention. I needed no explanation to surmise the connection between running and the famed Rift valley in Africa. A quick notice of Barbara Kingsolver’s perky book cover endorsement (“culturally rich and completely engrossing”) and the Bellwether Prize for Fiction winner’s medal sharpened my interest. But none of this prepared me for what lies between the covers.

This is not a “book about running”; rather, it is the rare work of fine literature that features a boy who just happens to love running. (For that, I suspect we can thank an author who just happens to be a triathlete.) This is a love story: a love story within family, and about connections to physical and cultural place, more than the trite “love of country.” And it is a coming of age love story between adolescents. But it is so much more, because the story occurs in Rwanda in the 1990’s when that country was the scene of an unspeakable and terrible genocide committed by neighbor upon neighbor.

Rather than explore the colonial, political, economic and social roots of this fratricidal event in history, the story focuses on our main characters and their families, Tutsi and Hutu both, as their lives are torn by forces beyond their grasp. Accounts of the brutal killings are awful to read, as is the gradual approach to the event since we know what’s coming. But it is the richness of the characters, their love of life and family – and, yes, country – that carries us along.

Personally, I was also carried along by an appreciation that the story is based in history – a history we should know better, since these events were truly “unspeakable,” under-reported and poorly understood by much of the world. And of course I was captured by our main character, a boy who truly loves to run and manages to run through one of humankind’s worst moments into manhood and a promising future.

Thank you, Pops, for this lovely review; you’ve certainly convinced me of the value of this book. I’m so glad you liked it, too; I knew very little about it when it caught my eye but it sounds like my instinct was on target. :)

Because Pops asked for them, I’ve linked to some other reviews of the book for your reference.

The verdict appears to be a resounding “read this book now.” Thanks for sharing, Pops.

One Response

  1. [...] have mentioned before that I collect books about running, particularly in an often frustrating search for good fiction. [...]

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