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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: Running, a novel

Running: A Novel
by Jean Echenoz
Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale
The New Press, 2009

This fictionalized biography of Emil Zátopek came to my attention via an excerpt in the current issue of Marathon & Beyond magazine. It was released in French in 2008, and this translated version was released last October.

I ordered it on Sunday, it got here around 4:00 today, and I've finished reading it already (even with a break for dinner). It's a slim book, just 122 pages and in a small (8"x5") format to boot. All very good reading.

Author Echenoz has won several awards for her other novels. The style and outlook on life is very French, although I can't put my finger on why. I guess it's just a certain je ne se quois.

He picked a good subject to work with. By contrast, Paavo Nurmi's biography would be very dull even in the best of hands. The superficial story of Zátopek is well known to track fans: trained much harder than anyone before him, dominated for years, was punished by the Communists after the Prague Spring, but his optimistic outlook could never be crushed. What is not well known, at least to westerners or the young, is life under first the Nazis and then totalitarians. Echenoz transmits the feeling of unease, fear and suspicion very well. It is a quiet terror we forget at our peril.

Final analysis: one of the ten best track books I've read While it could have gone more in depth, it would have compromised the minimalist style. I just wish there was more. Scores 390 meters (out of 400).

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