Fast Can You Run, a novel based on the life of Michael Majok Kuch
Harriet Levin Millan
Harvard Square Editions
2152 Beachwood Terrace, Hollywood, CA 90068
9781941861202 , $22.95, www.harrietlevinmillan.com
The events surrounding the second Sudanese Civil War, seen through the eyes of one who was there, may not seem like an extraordinary account until readers realize that the eyewitness is a child and the war disrupted his life, his family, and sent him on a worldwide journey that ultimately resulted in healing and this book.
Few accounts can adequately capture such experiences, but where nonfiction may falter, How Fast Can You Run proves that an adept writer can step in and use the fiction format to capture the drama, psychology, and tension of civil war from a child's eye (in this case, Michael Majok Kuch).
A fiction writer can alter time and tweak events to heighten drama and create a more compelling narrative. A good fiction writer can inject observations from different character perspectives and can hone the entire production so that events and approaches to life make sense and stay true to character development. And an excellent wordsmith can bring everything together in a story line that's completely accessible to newcomers to this history.
How Fast Can You Run's story of Kuch, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, requires no prior familiarity with Sudanese history or culture and provides all this as a backdrop to its story of how Kuch survived against impossible odds, emigrated to America, and came to meet the author and see his story in book form.
Michael Majok Kuch was groomed to grow into a successful herder for his tribe when war changed his life. Not yet of age to assume these important responsibilities, he instead faced a civil war that would send him out into East Africa as a refugee, living for ten years in the camps, and eventually to America.
The novel starts with a bang (or, should it be said, a boom), and keeps on driving home its revelations about conflict, change, and a nearly impossible struggle for survival for a young boy dependent on adults around him for direction and safety: "LOUD BOOMING woke him. He thought it was elephants and opened his eyes. The hut was pitch-black. He needed to pee but was too afraid to step down on his wounded heel or crawl on his knees to the door. He was just a tiny boy, about five years old, afraid of scorpions nesting in the roof grass, snakes slithering through cracks and crocodiles scurrying up shallows. Another loud boom. Bursting light. Flames shot up. The thatched roof was on fire. His mother rushed toward him, holding his baby brother in her arms, shouting, "Kare! Run!"
As strife turn into years of struggle, Kuch faces adversity, owes many his life, stands among thousands of refugees hoping to emigrate to America, and confronts what's left of his own family as he directs them to a new country and assumes the role of leader under impossible circumstances at an impossibly young age. Adversity doesn't stop when they reach the promised land, either, as racial divide and new challenges await him and test every ideal he's survived for and built.
Because How Fast Can You Run is based on a true saga, the viewpoints and experiences of Kuch come to vivid life and weave a powerful saga of politics, struggle, and survival that's hard to put down. Any reader interested in accounts of the Sudanese war will find this a compelling method of absorbing history at its most meaningful: through the eyes of a young eyewitness who didn't just observe events, but lived through and survived -- Diane Donovan, Senior Editor, Midwest Reviews