Blood Runner

Overview


Samuel's parents and young sister, innocent bystanders during an uprising, are killed by South African police. Samuel is sent to live with his uncle, a tribal chief in the Bantu homeland, while his brother vows to join the African National Congress armed struggle and avenge his family's deaths. In the h omeland, Samuel discovers he can run faster than anyone and before long begins to train under his English-educated uncle. Years later, after the end of Apartheid, Samuel is selected as the token black South ...
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Blood Runner

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Overview


Samuel's parents and young sister, innocent bystanders during an uprising, are killed by South African police. Samuel is sent to live with his uncle, a tribal chief in the Bantu homeland, while his brother vows to join the African National Congress armed struggle and avenge his family's deaths. In the h omeland, Samuel discovers he can run faster than anyone and before long begins to train under his English-educated uncle. Years later, after the end of Apartheid, Samuel is selected as the token black South African athlete to run in the Olympics. President Nelson Mandela is there when he wins his gold medal, and Samuel dedicates it to 'a very special man... I was running for the President. I was running for my country.'

This powerful and moving story portrays what it was like for blacks growing up in South Africa aunder Apartheid and the different ways in which they struggled to gain their freedom. For some, like Samuel's brother, it was an armed struggle, but for Samuel it was the opportunity to prove he could run better than any white man.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Samuel felt more excited than scared. He'd never seen Africans stand up to policemen before. He thought the six young men were incredibly brave. You could have cut the air with a knife. All eyes were on the young lads holding out their passes."
— from the book
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Samuel is a fictional character inspired by Josiah Thugwane, the marathon runner who was the first black South African to win an Olympic gold medal. The novel begins when Samuel is a child and his parents and sister are killed in a police massacre of antiapartheid protesters. Samuel and one of his brothers are sent to the rural Bantu homeland to live with their uncle, while another brother, an amputee, is left in the city. Samuel herds goats and begins to mold himself into a long-distance runner. He marries and goes to work in the gold mines. All this time he tells himself that his contribution to the fight against apartheid will be to show that he can beat white marathon runners. There is no real plot tension; that he'll prevail is a foregone conclusion. Historical and geographical accuracy are given short shrift, characters are sketchily drawn, and major events in the story appear in near-summary form. While the massacre in which Samuel's parents and sister die is set up as a portrayal of the events in Sharpeville in 1960, the time line of the story, which includes the 1996 Olympics, when Samuel wins his gold, requires that the action takes place in the 1980s. Riordan's failure to ground his story in accurate historical details drains it of any richness or resonance it might have had. For a powerful fictional look at South Africa's history and politics, stick with Beverley Naidoo's Out of Bounds (HarperCollins, 2003) or Colleen Craig's Afrika (Tundra, 2008).—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
Kirkus Reviews
A general indictment of apartheid is thinly wrapped in a tale about a young Zulu marathoner who runs for his country in the Olympics. When police fire into a crowd watching a peaceful demonstration, they orphan young Samuel and his two older brothers, radicalizing the latter. In later years one brother loses his mind on Robben Island, and the other is killed in a gun battle. Samuel, though, grows up to leverage his love of running barefoot over his dusty tribal "homeland" into a spot on South Africa's Olympics team after apartheid collapses and Mandela is freed. Riordan loosely bases his disconnected main plot on the experiences of Josiah Thugwane, the first black gold medalist from South Africa. He begins his book with the graphically depicted opening massacre, closely followed by a disturbingly gruesome hospital scene. To these he adds angry rhetoric ("Where was British justice now?") and ugly words when Samuel goes to get a passbook and later boards a "Whites Only" train car by mistake. For readers who still aren't with the program, he provides infodumps about South Africa's racial history and the African National Congress and a triumphant set piece when Samuel casts a vote in his first national election. Samuel runs (and wins) the climactic race with a letter from Mandela tucked in his shoe. This potentially inspiring tale staggers along under the weight of a worthy agenda. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 12-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781845079345
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
  • Publication date: 2/21/2012
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 12 - 15 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author


James Riordan has traveled the world collecting folktales and has published over thirty volumes of tales from different countries. The Twelve Labours of Hercules won the UK Reading Association Award 1998. He is Emeritus Professor at the University of Surry and Visiting Professor at the University of Worcester, as well as holding honorary degrees from Birmingham, London, Moscow and Grenoble. He regularly reviews children's books for The Times., and his autobiography, Comrade Jim: the spy who played for Spartak, was published in 2008 by Fourth Estate.

He has also written ten novels for young people. His first, Sweet Clarinet, won the NASEN award in 1999 and was nominated for the Whitbread Prize in 1998. Match of Death won the South Lanarkshire Book Award in 2004, and The Gift was nominated for the NASEN award in 2006. He published a novel on slavery, Rebel Cargo, with Frances Lincoln in 2007.
He lives in Portsmouth, United Kingdom.

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Read an Excerpt


Samuel's eyes grew wide as he took in the unfolding scene. The police were climbing inside their Saracens, battening down the hatches and peering at the crowd through slits in the armour plating. With the extra officers and guns brought in from round about, the station force had swollen to about four hundred men, armed with enough weapons to wage a war.
It was the usual bluff - a show of strength to make sure the blacks knew who was boss. Sam continued to play ball with his sister, men and women were walking arm-in-arm in and out of the crowd, people were tagging on, filled with curiosity.
Then came a drone that grew to a roar. Out of the blue sky, from over the horizon, flew a squadron of fighter planes, like a swarm of angry wasps. As they approached, they flew so low that the crowd could see the pilots inside them. Saml had never seen a fighter plane before. How kind of the Big Baas to treat them to this rip-roaring fly-past!
Despite the tanks and planes, the six protesters felt they couldn't lose face by backing down now. Dead on one o'clock, the young men in T-shirts and jeans linked arms and started walking slowly towards the station. About twenty yards from the tanks, they halted and began chanting, 'No Pass! No Pass!'
Others took up the chant and added a new one - in Afrikaans, for the whites' benefit: 'Ons dak nie! Ons dak nie! We won't move!' Quietly, nervously at first. Then louder and in chorus. But it fell on deaf ears. Nothing happened. No police emerged from the tanks or the station. Perhaps they were having a lie-in or enjoying their usual 'beer and brai'.
The young protesters didn't know what to do next. Sam was half-hoping they'd burn their pass books or do something daredevilish so that he could cheer them on.
Then, all at once, a long line of black policemen dressed smartly in khaki shirts and shorts came filing through the iron gates. Unusually, they were carrying rifles. They were being marshalled by a white officer in a shiny peaked cap, barking, 'Left, Right! Left Right! Halt!'
At his order, they lined up against the wall and gates on either side of the tanks.
'Order arms!' yelled the officer. 'Get ready to fire!'
The crowd watched, bemused, as the police pointed their rifles at the protestors.
'They're kidding, aren't they?' said Looksmart. 'They haven't even rigged up wires to a loudspeaker to give a warning, as they usually do.'
You could tell by the sweaty faces of the policemen that they were jittery. They probably saw themselves as the thin khaki line between a raging black mob and white 'civilised' society.
Samuel felt more excited than scared. He'd never seen Africans stand up to policemen before. He thought the six young men were incredibly brave. You could have cut the air with a knife. All eyes were on the young lads holding out their passes.
'Now they'll get a right ticking-off,' whispered Mother.
'Or spend a night in the cells,' hissed Father. 'That'll bring them to their senses.'
No one said a word. The sweating policemen stood like statues. The tanks, their guns trained on the crowd, were ready for action. The six protestors kept their distance, defiant and silent. One side held guns, the other passbooks.
As if in tune with the sombre mood below, dark clouds suddenly gathered overhead, spoiling what had been a crystal-clear Highveld morning. In the distance came a soft roll of thunder.
What came next was completely unexpected.
A shot rang out. Or was it a crack of thunder?
Everyone looked round. Had some rowdy in the crowd let off his pistol in the air?
The police started to panic. There were shouts of 'Daar was 'n skiet! There was a shot!' and a hoarse command: 'Skiet! Shoot!' - from where, no one knew.
Then all hell broke loose. The police opened fire with everything they had: pistols, rifles, Sten guns, heavy machine guns… There was no warning, no volley into the air. No 'Staan of ons skiet! 'Stop, or we'll shoot!'
Toc-toc-toc-toc. Toc-toc-toc-toc. On and on and on. A hail of bullets in a thunder-burst, sharp and deep-throated, rained first into the face of the crowd, then into their backs as they turned to flee.
All in the space of a frozen minute.
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