Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong, with Mark Tabb

Running for My Life
(Disclosure: Review copy — I get nothing from posting the link, below, to the Kindle version on Amazon.)

I had seen the pre-publication announcements for this book and really wanted to read it for a couple of reasons. First, I live and work in Kenya and the issue of child soldiers is a hot topic around here. The Kakuma refugee camp is huge. So, a first-hand account of one who has experienced that holds a lot of interest for me. Second, I enjoy running. Now, I'm old and fat and slow, but I'm still attracted to stories of runners for whom running has been a way to work through and overcome challenges. Lomong's story fit both of those and I was glad to get the chance to read and review the book through Thomas Nelson Publisher's "BookSneeze" program.

In my experience, autobiographies have to be taken with a grain of salt. Most seem to come across as highly self-serving and, frankly, somewhat pompous. This one did not, perhaps because of the capable guidance of the co-author. I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging the book was.

Is it possible to quantify mistreatment? While Lomong was not beat during his captivity nor was he ever sent to battle by the rebel soldiers, it was difficult to read his account of being kidnapped and then his time in the rebels' camp. Any time I thought about him being only 6 years old and forcibly kept from his family and in those conditions, it was heartbreaking. At the same time, though, the thoughts he recounts from that time could hardly be the thoughts of a 6-year old — he's certainly projecting adult thoughts back to that time. Not that that's wrong because I think it's the nature of autobiographies.

It was fun to read of Lomong's "wonder" at all the new experiences he faced. He saw Kakuma as a haven (it's not, at least from an American middle class perspective) because he could go to school, he was away from war, he had food ("...I looked at the scraps of food from the dump as a blessing."), he could play football (soccer), he could run! Later in the book, as Lomong talks about facing a major 1500M race, he writes:

Pressure is trying to make a UN food allotment stretch for thirty days. Pressure is watching friends die of malaria and wondering who in the camp will be next. Pressure is writing an essay that will determine your entire future in a language you do not know. A footrace, even a championship race, did not make me feel pressure. (Kindle book location 2293-2295)

Lomong will help you see your own troubles in a new light. I think you will also be inspired by how Lomong has used his success to try to make a difference in the lives of other southern Sudanese — perhaps that's what makes this autobiography so different from others.

Running for My Life is a good read. While autobiographical, it's not pompous. If you're interested in the life of one elite runner, you'll enjoy this book. There are numerous references to Lomong's faith in God (personally, I'm very sympathetic to that perspective) but he rarely gets preachy — it's just who he is. I think you'll celebrate with this kidnapped boy who, with a lot of help from strangers, organizations, individuals, teachers, and friends, was able to escape from dire circumstances and use his freedom to help others. Maybe you'll even be inspired to help a lost boy. This would be a great read for anyone working with immigrants — it will help you know how to help them adjust.
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