Following his brilliant portrait of Maurice Ravel, Jean Echenoz turns to the life of one of the greatest runners of the twentieth century, and once again demonstrates his astonishing abilities as a prose stylist. Set against the backdrop of the Soviet liberation and post–World War II communist rule of Czechoslovakia, Running— a bestseller in France—follows the famed career of Czech runner Emil Zátopek: a factory worker who, despite an initial contempt for athletics as a young man, is forced to participate in a ...
Following his brilliant portrait of Maurice Ravel, Jean Echenoz turns to the life of one of the greatest runners of the twentieth century, and once again demonstrates his astonishing abilities as a prose stylist. Set against the backdrop of the Soviet liberation and post–World War II communist rule of Czechoslovakia, Running— a bestseller in France—follows the famed career of Czech runner Emil Zátopek: a factory worker who, despite an initial contempt for athletics as a young man, is forced to participate in a footrace and soon develops a curious passion for the physical limits he discovers as a long-distance runner.
Zátopek, who tenaciously invents his own brutal training regimen, goes on to become a national hero, winning an unparalleled three gold medals at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and breaking countless world records along the way. But just as his fame brings him upon the world stage, he must face the realities of an increasingly controlling regime.
Written in Echenoz’s signature style—elegant yet playful—Running is both a beautifully imagined and executed portrait of a man and his art, and a powerful depiction of a country’s propagandizing grasp on his fate.
French author Echenoz (Ravel) centers his new biographical novel on Emil Zátopek, the first Czech Olympic gold medal winner in track and field. The Nazi occupation of Moravia means mandatory participation in youth organizations; forced to participate in a race, Emil begrudgingly embarks on his athletic career, only to discover a passion for running. Emil's training techniques reject notions of moderation and energy conservation in favor of relentless speed training and little rest. These masochistic efforts pay off as Emil becomes a world champion. But postwar Czechoslovakia's political agenda not only determines his race schedule but also transforms him into a talking head against Western capitalism. In addition to the story's inspirational value, Echenoz elegantly draws parallels between the runner's lack of autonomy and that of his country, which only two decades after the end of WWII was occupied once again by the Soviets. But the author treats his subject with too much distance: he is a running machine, a figure neither fully realized nor entirely allegorical. Linda Coverdale provides a smooth translation. (Dec.)
Understated novel about the rise and fall of Czech runner Emil Zatopek. Goncourt winner Echenoz (Ravel, 2007, etc.) recently seems to be specializing in thinly fictionalizing the lives of real people. Zatopek is a good choice for inherent drama; he was at first rewarded and then punished by Communist Party authorities. The decision to reward came easily, for Zatopek astounded all by running. For many years he remained an officer in the Czech army and received a promotion with almost every victory, from European championships to the Olympics. Echenoz emphasizes that Zatopek was not a stylish runner but instead an awkward and ungainly plugger-not pretty to watch but pragmatically effective. For a while he simply couldn't be beaten, and for more than five years he was the fastest man in the world in long distances. While his specialty was the 10,000 meters, he also showed himself adept at both 5,000 meters and marathons, winning gold medals in all three at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Eventually, however, age and a punishing training regimen took a toll on his body, and he started to lose. In one telling and sorrowful moment, Zatopek passes through Orly airport on his way to a race in Spain and sees the usual crush of news reporters and photographers. "How kind of them to show up," he thinks, "it's always nice to see you haven't been forgotten." In fact, he finds, they're gathered to report on Elizabeth Taylor, who has just flown in from London. When he comments on the Soviet invasion of 1968, his naive and impolitic remarks lead the authorities to strip him of his army commission and his right to live in Prague, then to banish him to work in a uranium mine. An engaging but subduedportrait of a legend.