Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sunset run in the canyon...and a novel about a Rwandan runner

A few posts back, I wrote about signing up for a local race:
Got the t-shirt! 
Always fun to run with hundreds of other runners 
(it was 'sold out,' as it has been for the last four years)
in a spectacular natural setting:
Sabino Canyon has got to be one of the most scenic 
close-in-to-an-urban-area runs anywhere in the country...

And here's the elevation profile:
I am by no means 'fast,' but I met my goal...
For most of the year I run the canyon once a week;
it was truly a treat to run an 'official race' there earlier this evening...
The sunset run has been held mid-April every year for the past three decades.

Today, though might have been one of the 'coldest' days.
On an average mid-April afternoon, the temperature will be in the mid-80's.
Today, though, a freak storm blew through; the snow level dropped way down on the mountains,
and there was a little bit of sleet that fell this morning. By the afternoon, the clouds had cleared, but the temperature at the 5:45 p.m. start-time was only in the 50's, with wind..."Cold" for Tucson, especially in mid-spring.

And...speaking of's a book recommendation:
...I'm reading a novel about a runner in Rwanda in the 1990's: Running the Rift, by local author Naomi Benaron. Driving home from work a couple of weeks ago, I heard this review on NPR. Since the author lives here in Tucson, and the plot involves a runner in Rwanda, and my wife and know a few people from Rwanda here in town, and the novel recently won the Bellwether prize--I had to get the book.

The following excerpt is from an article that appeared in the local "Tucson Weekly" a while back:

Prize founder Barbara Kingsolver calls Benaron’s manuscript, Running the Rift, culturally rich and completely engrossing. “It engages the reader with complex political questions about ethnic animosity in Rwanda and so many other issues relevant to North American readers," Kingsolver said. "For one, it conveys the impossibility of remaining neutral within a climate of broad moral compromise—even for purportedly apolitical institutions like the Olympics.”

Benaron’s unique background includes a Master of Fine Arts degree from Antioch University in Los Angeles , and a Master of Science degree in Earth Sciences from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, with a concentration in seismology. She is also a certified orthopedic massage therapist, and an Ironman Triathlete. Currently, she teaches at Pima Community College, works online with women writers in Afghanistan through the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, and works with African refugees in the community.

"In my writing, what has always mattered most is to carry the human consequences of injustice to the reader’s heart and thus in some small way, bring healing,” Benaron said. “From the moment I heard about the Bellwether Prize, I knew it addressed exactly those principles I have strived for in telling the stories I tell. I cannot imagine a greater honor, a greater validation.”

The Bellwether Prize is awarded biennially to a promising first-time novelist working in the tradition of socially engaged literature. Manuscripts are judged blind, to avoid any form of bias; the identity of the author of the winning manuscript (and all other submissions) is not known by any judge or prize administrator until after the decision is finalized. A rotating panel of judges selects the winning manuscript from a national pool of entries.

For the Bellwether Prize’s 10th anniversary selection, judges were chosen for their special understanding of the award’s mission—to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice. Barbara Kingsolver herself stepped into the role, alongside the first Bellwether recipient Donna Gershten (Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth, HarperCollins, 2001), and Kathy Pories of Algonquin, editor of the 2006 and 2008 Bellwether winners.

Running the Rift “is truly fearless writing: ambitious, beautiful, unapologetically passionate,” Kingsolver said. “I’m impressed and proud to add this novel to the list of Bellwether Prize recipients.”


Here's the transcript of the review that caught my ear on the radio a couple of weeks ago:

Athletes all over the world are training for the summer Olympics in London. We'll hear some of their personal stories as the games get closer. But now, a fictional story about a man who wants to reach the Olympics. "Running the Rift" is about an African athlete's struggles with his country's ethnic divisions.

Here's our reviewer, Alan Cheuse.
ALAN CHEUSE: John Patrick, the main character of Naomi Benaron's first novel, is a young Rwandan student from the Lake Kivu region who hopes to run in the Olympics. And he begins to train hard, even as a young kid. When his schoolmaster father dies in a roadside accident, his mother and the rest of the family scrape by.

While the country lurches toward the tragedy every reader will know is coming, John Patrick runs. He runs up and down the paths and the hills of his home region, strengthening his legs and lungs, his eye on the distant Olympic prize.

Within a few years, he heads off to school; courts a girl from a Hutu neighborhood near the university; trains hard with a Hutu coach; wins some races, loses others; and deepens his affection for his native land, a land which a visiting American academic, a geologist at the university, describes as having a landscape twisted and folded, tied in knots by a history of pressure and heat.

That's how Patrick's story unfolds. And I have to say, novelist Benaron, with her fusion of research and firsthand observation of Rwandan society, knows how to tie the reader in knots as she develops Patrick's life-affirming story while the reader waits for the inevitable genocide.

At one point, as the killings begin to spread, John Patrick finds that the blood smell was overmuch in his nostrils. And he wonders if it would ever wash away. I know that thanks to this novel, I won't soon forget it.

The book is "Running the Rift" by Naomi Benaron. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.

1 comment:

  1. This just went to the TOP of my to-read list. Holy Smokes!!