Recently, I finished Now is the Time for Running, a 230 page novel by Michael Williams. Michael Williams is a recognized author. He is a writer of plays, musicals, operas, and novels and the Managing Director of Cape Town Opera in South Africa. He began writing “radio plays” while studying at University of Cape Town and had his first novel published when he was twenty-five years old. He has written operas for young people based on African mythology as well as the libretti for symphonic operas that have premiered around the world. Michael is the author of several books, including the highly praised young adult novel Crocodile Burning. He finds writing fiction to be the perfect antidote to the drama of keeping an opera company alive in Africa.
Now is the Time for Running was published in 2011. This book gravitated toward me because I love soccer. When I saw the cover, I thought it was just another soccer book; a typical story of a boy who loves soccer, goes, to school, and lives a normal life. But as I started reading, I realized I was wrong. This book has so much more meaning. It is a book about sacrifice, survival, family, persistence, resilience, determination, and so much more. It is a well written story that gives the reader a perspective on how lucky we are to live where we live and not have to worry about survival day in and day out. That is why I love this story.
In the story, Now is the Time for Running, Deo to play soccer 24/7. He loves it more than anything. But, when soldiers sent by the government raid his hometown and kill 2 of the people that mean the most to him: his grandfather Grandpa Longdrop, and his mother Amai, Deo and his older brother Innocent are forced to flee Gutu. At first they are unsure on where they would go next, Deo remembers their family friend, a police chief in the next town over. When they arrive at Captain Washington’s house, Deo tells him what had occurred in Gutu. Captain Washington offers the boys to sleep at his house until they figure something out. But the very next morning, soldiers come to the town. This again forces Deo and Innocent to flee. Captain Washington helps them hitch a ride on a freight truck headed for South Africa, “The land of freedom”. Deo and Innocent reach the border on the truck, but the country closes the border. Every car and truck is inspected. So right in the nick of time, Deo and Innocent escape. They run into the woods. A woman they meet tells them that if they need to get to South Africa, they must find Mai Maria, a woman who smuggles people across the border. The brothers find Mai Maria’s camp in a clearing through the woods. The boys don’t have enough money to pay Mai Maria, but they make a deal. Deo and Innocent must give Mai Maria their shoes plus all their money. To get across the border, the refugees must cross the Limpopo, or Crocodile River. Innocent almost slips on the rough rapids of the river, but they successfully make it across the river. But the journey to South Africa has just begun. The refugees must get across a 3 mile reserve, infested with wild animals such as Elephants, Hippos, Cheetahs, Monkeys, Hyenas, and Lions. While stealthily crossing this reserve, a pack of Hyenas spot the group of helpless refugees. As the Hyenas closed in, Innocent starts screaming and blowing a whistle, saving the group. After hours of running, the refugees can see the fence. The only thing in between them and the fence? The Lions. Luckily, the group sneaks past unharmed. When they get through, the brothers are without work, or a life. Luckily, a man who owns a tomato farm finds them and asks them if they’d like to come live and work on his farm. Of course they accept, so they leave with the man to the farm. Many other boys Deo’s age also work at this farm. For Deo, it is all he could ask for; a place to live, pay, and on Sunday’s, Deo gets to go across the street to play soccer! Innocent is also enjoying their situation because it is structured. But one day, men who live in the town where the farm is located are watching Deo play. Instead of being in awe at his brilliant skill, they are yelling death threats his way because they believe he, along with other outsiders, are stealing these men’s’ jobs. So, Deo decides not to go back to the soccer field on Sunday’s because it is not safe. After only a week without soccer, Deo is unhappy. He wants to run away. Another boy in his cabin on the farm feels the same way. The boy, named Philani, claims he has family in South Africa. He proposes a deal: Deo pays for the cab rides with his salary, and Deo and Innocent can stay with him and his family. Against Innocent’s preference, he agrees. So, the 3 boys are off to South Africa, “The land of freedom.” But when the boys arrive at Philani’s house, the parents won’t let Deo and Innocent stay with them. So they boys are forced to stay on the street. While wandering around the city one day, a man named Gawalia finds them under a bridge. This man takes the brothers to his home, the inside of a bridge. Gawalia has a family, and they welcome Deo and Innocent with open arms. One day though, riots break out in the streets of South Africa. The people rioting are citizens that are against outsiders; kwerekwere to them. When the rioters reach the bridge, Innocent is still inside. Deo and the others were out in town. They managed to escape. But, when they returned to the bridge was empty. The family, plus Deo, searches everywhere for Innocent. Next to a police car, there is a rubble of garbage. Deo sees it. He screams. I cannot say anymore. Read the story.
I really liked the way Michael Williams added native African words into the story. One example is Amai. Throughout the story, Deo refers to his mother as Amai. Originally you might think that Amai is Deo’s mother’s name, but at the end of the book, Mr. Williams provides a glossary. Amai actually means, “mother” in Shoan; one language from Zimbabwe. Another word is Kwerekwere. I liked this word because it first of all is fun to say, and second of all is a great fit in the story. It, along with the other words in the story that aren’t english, make the story feel like it’s told in english, but when characters talk it’s in their language. It adds diversity to the story. Kwerekwere is, “A derogatory term for foreigner; word is imitation of how different African languages sound to the local ear.”
One thing I noticed about this story is that the author illustrates the generosity of the people from various places in Africa. Michael Williams did a brilliant job of showing the reader what’s it like to live in Zimbabwe. When Deo and Innocent are forced to flee Gutu, Captain Washington took them in as if he was their father. And when Gawalia finds Deo and Innocent on the street, he welcomes them in without hesitation. Also, when the farm owner finds the boys on the street, he gives them a job. All in all, I liked how the author put the generosity on display.
Something that surprised me in this story was that when Grandpa Longdrop and Amai die, Innocent doesn’t know they died. And Deo elects not tell Innocent what happened. Why Deo did this, I don’t exactly know because Innocent is 18, and can handle the blow. I think Deo chose to do this because the journey across the continent would go much smoother. Deo told Innocent that Grandpa Longdrop and Amai had gone to the capital to talk to officials about the raid. I think if I were in Deo’s position, I would do the same as him to protect my brothers.
I really enjoyed one of the passages in this story due to its inspiring quote. In this part of the book, Coach Salie is talking to his team. “I have watched you very closely over the last seven days, and each of you brings something special to this team. Zimbabwe has brought me guts and determination; from Kenya I get lightness and speed; from Angola, great defense of the goal area; Mozambique, superb ball control and agility. Don’t you understand? It is because we are not the same that we are stronger than any other team in this competition! All of you have learned to play soccer from different parts of Africa. Our playing style is like no other in the world, and it’s difficult to read. I can take the best from where you come from and make you the strongest team in the competition.” (page 205)
I loved this passage because prior to this, the players had been fighting over race. Coach Salie gave them the best pre-tournament speech a coach could give. It made the team cohesive and coherent. That is just one of the many reasons why I loved this book and I recommend this book to everyone, because it is a very heartwarming story. I rate this book a 9 out of 10, and I look forward to re-reading it.