Review Blog

Feb 09 2012

Blood runner by James Riordan

cover image

Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2011. ISBN 9781845079345.
In a preface to this story concerning the black struggle against apartheid in South Africa, James Riordan states that the work is fictional rather than biographical. It is however based upon Josiah Thugwane, a marathon runner and the first black man to win an Olympic gold medal representing South Africa.
Riordan blends aspects of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre with the 1976 Soweto uprising to create a traumatic event which determines the main character Samuel's life course and is plausible within the tale's chronology.
The story vividly portrays the almost unbelievable civil rights abuses perpetrated against black South Africans by a ruling minority prior to 1994, particularly in reference to the brutality and violence applied to suppress the black population.
Portrayal of the Marathon is apt in light of Mandela's work The long walk to freedom as personal courage, patience and endurance are evident in both.
Samuel must prepare himself over many years and overcomes various setbacks and failures in pursuit of his goals. Like Mandela stoically maintaining his vision, Samuel must make great personal sacrifices and comes to appreciate that if he can attain victory then this will be shared by his people.
The language is simple and whilst some content is confronting, young teens should not struggle to understand the historical themes behind the narrative. I did consider Samuel's and his brothers' subdued reaction to a monstrously traumatic event to be unrealistic, however this is a small flaw in an otherwise great story. Similarly, the inclusion of an eccentric uncle in the Bantu homelands as a device to introduce running seemed clumsy, yet the conclusion warrants acceptance of such elements.
Having an extremely striking cover, the book is likely to be selected from the shelves and I hope that young teenagers will read and learn about both human misery and triumph in this true-to-life tale.
Rob Welsh

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