Deo is playing soccer with his friends when the soldiers arrive in Gutu. "You voted wrongly at the election," the commander tells the villagers. "You were not thinking straight. That is why the president sent me."
The first villager to be beaten is Deo's grandfather. The second villager to be beaten is Deo's mentally disabled older brother, Innocent. Soldiers drag Innocent out of the village; other soldiers beat the rest of the villagers. Deo manages to escape and find Innocent, but soon he realizes that they have no choice but to flee Zimbabwe. All Deo and Innocent have with them are Innocent's Bix-box, in which Innocent stores his most important possessions, and Deo's homemade soccer ball, stuffed with bill after bill of near worthless Zimbabwean currency.
Running to South Africa will not be easy.
And once in South Africa, how will they manage to survive? Innocent is childlike, sometimes prone to fits, and poor South Africans all over the country are seething with resentment against refugees like Deo and Innocent.
Now Is the Time for Running (originally published in South Africa under the title The Billion Dollar Soccer Ball) is a work of fiction, but is based on the experiences of three refugees from Zimbabwe whom Michael Williams met in South Africa. It's vividly told in Deo's first-person present tense narration, at first with filled with urgency as Deo and Innocent try to reach South Africa. As the story goes on, Deo's voice changes--still recognizably his, still gripping, but impacted by what happens to him after that day in Gutu.
At less than 230 pages, Now Is the Time for Running is quite short, but the brevity does not decrease its power. On the contrary, I think this makes the story even more immediate, as Williams thrusts the reader directly into Deo's life, explaining little more than what is needed to understand Deo's situation.
An Author's Note at the end of the book helpfully gives more insight into the origins of the story as well as the climate of xenophobia in South Africa. However, I do wish a map of Zimbabwe and South Africa were included in the book, as well as a note about Zimbabwe.
For readers who want to learn more about Zimbabwe, I highly recommend reading Peter Godwin's The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe. Godwin, an author and journalist who was born and raised in Zimbabwe, returned there in 2008 soon after the presidential election. Mugabe, the country's longtime dictator, lost the election but refused to give up power. The Fear is a personal account of Zimbabwe--of Godwin's and his sister's return to the places they once lived, but most of all, the appalling, disturbing, inspiring, and courageous experiences of people who remain. It's not an easy book to read, since among those Godwin gives voice to are Zimbabweans who were arrested and tortured. Yet Godwin's writing is passionate and vital, and so is The Fear.
So is Now Is the Time for Running.
Book source: public library.
Cross-posted at The YA YA YAs.