From Publishers Weekly
Abebe Bikila, a soldier in the imperial guard of Ethiopia's Haile Selassie, wasn't just the first African athlete to win a gold medal in Olympic competition. He won the marathon in the 1960 games while running barefoot, then defied odds to win again in Tokyo four years later. Between the two victories, however, he nearly faced execution after being used as a pawn by leaders of an unsuccessful coup against Selassie. His life has all the makings of a compelling story—and despite being billed as a biography, Rambali's account takes a highly novelistic approach, imagining the inner thoughts of Bikila (1932–1973) and other figures in every scene. The technique is suspect, given the failure to cite documentation for such speculation when all the major players have been dead for decades. Furthermore, key historical details are inexplicably bypassed; when a German philanthropist donates hundreds of running shoes to Ethiopia's athletic program, for example, the name of the shoe company is never mentioned. Rambali also falls short as a dramatist, awkwardly juxtaposing Bikila's career against the personal turmoil of his trainer, Onni Niskanen, and the declining years of Selassie's reign. (June)
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Beautifully written, elegiac biography of the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal. Bookseller Rambali brings the athletes, coaches, soldiers and their peculiar monarch beautifully to life in this strange, sad tale. Daily Telegraph Poignant...about far more than Bikila's exploits on the track. Time Out Delivers engrossing accounts of the Byzantine intrigues at Selassie's court...strong on documentary detail. It is impossible to remain unmoved by his accounts of the two great Olympic feats. Independent An ambitious and evocative dramatisation... lyrical... makes you feel you are pounding the pavements alongside Bikila, hearing his breath in your ear -- Tim Lewis Observer