A review: Now Is the Time for Running by Michael Williams (July 2011)
After the soldiers come through Gutu, fourteen year old Deo and his mentally disabled older brother, Innocent, are the only survivors left in their village. Carrying only a cowhide soccer ball stuffed with billions of dollars of near worthless Zimbabwean currency and a Weetabix tin containing Innocent’s treasures, the two brothers flee for the safety of South Africa before the border closes completely. They evade the Green Bombas and the soldiers, cross crocodile-infested waters, and run across a nature preserve full of hungry hyenas and lions to get to a place where Deo thinks they can stop running.
In South Africa, there’s work and wages and even Sunday soccer games to look forward to. The pay is meager by South African living standards, but it’s a fortune in Zim dollars and besides, the Flying Tomato Farm provides room and board for all its workers, most of who have escaped Zimbabwe just like Deo. When Deo realizes they are being taken advantage of by the system, he decides to strike out for Johannesburg, but it seems they’ve escaped totalitarian rule at home only to be welcomed by xenophobia and hostility from the people already there.
Although the pacing of the book is relentless, Michael Williams does a skillful job incorporating Deo’s personal journey into actual true events with unflinching honesty. Even better is the portrayal of Deo and Innocent’s relationship as they go through these difficulties. Although Deo is younger by ten years, he is the one taking care of his older brother, who is innocent of the political, social, and economic factors dictating their flight. In fact, because of his quirks, Innocent often unintentionally makes Deo’s life harder.
Soccer is another important theme in this story. Running begins with a soccer game and ends with a soccer game. For Deo, soccer is a memory of home, an activity that brings people together, and a talent that gives him a future. It’s also effortlessly incorporated into the storyline.
Now Is the Time for Running is unlike any children’s book I’ve ever read. It puts its young protagonist in an unimaginably difficult scenario, except that many people have actually experienced what Deo went through. It doesn’t skirt around topics like military rule, exploitation of illegal immigrants, and xenophobic violence, either. And yet it manages to be sobering, gut-wrenching, and uplifting and brilliantly eye-opening at the same time. A must read.