A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Before I start this review, I should mention that Rosie is a friend, and for five years I watched her progress around the world via her website – with my head in my hands and my heart in my mouth half the time. This is not, therefore, going to be an entirely unbiased opinion. Heck – let’s be honest – it isn’t a REMOTELY unbiased opinion …
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It starts with her husband Clive – funny, loyal, indomitable Clive – taken by prostate cancer that was diagnosed too late. Most people, when they grieve, do it by throwing themselves into work, or shutting themselves away from the world or putting on a brave face so that people say “Isn’t she coping wonderfully well?”
Rosie – being Rosie – decided that the thing to do was spread the word about prostate cancer and the importance of early diagnosis by running around the world. As the book cover says, it took five years and 53 pairs of shoes. Along the way she encountered 3 packs of wolves, feral dogs, a naked man with a gun, flash floods and temperatures as low as -60. She had double pneumonia, was hit by a lorry, got frostbite, was rescued by the Alaskan National Air Guard and – 32 miles from home – suffered stress fractures that meant she completed the last leg on crutches.
Along the way she scooped up new charities to support – most notably the extraordinary Kitezh Children’s Community – and left new friends and well-wishers in her wake like confetti, because to meet Rosie is to love her. (I did SAY this wasn’t going to be unbiased).
Those five years are packed into just 326 pages so it’s inevitably a whistle-stop journey – but it’s none the worse for that. Rosie writes the way she lives – with a headlong enthusiasm that leaves you breathless in her wake. Her descriptions of surviving winter in Siberia are blood-curdling and even though I knew it all had a happy ending, I was so immersed in the narrative that I actually felt slightly sick when she accidentally locked out her satphone by punching in the wrong pin number three times – leaving her completely alone and unsupported in one of the most lethally remote places on earth.
The two things that struck me most forcibly about her journey were how often sheer luck saved her life and how much she owed to the kindness of strangers.
My favourite ‘sheer luck’ story is the getting-hit-by-a-lorry one. Bizarre as it may sound – it probably saved her life. Rosie was so horribly fit that she could run through afflictions that would have floored most normal mortals. She knew there was something not quite right as she was running through Siberia, but it wasn’t until she was hit by a lorry and taken to hospital by the anguished driver that they discovered she had double pneumonia. Then there was the flash flood that caught her, knocking her unconscious. She came round to find herself snagged by her harness.
Most of all, however, there were the people. In some of the most remote and inhospitable corners of the earth, people took her to their hearts – whole communities following her progress through their homelands and turning out with home-made banners to welcome her.
It was in Alaska that she very nearly came completely unstuck – when she woke up to find her foot encased in ice which she had to chip off – to reveal a badly frostbitten great toe. The stubborn streak that had served her so well across Asia came close to felling her. She stumbled on with the injury, convincing herself that she could overcome it as she’d overcome everything else until she simply couldn’t walk any further. Then and only then did she accept that she needed serious help – in the shape of the Alaskan National Air Guard. They thought she would inevitably lose the toe, and she was told she wouldn’t be able to run again for at last six months, but that would mean delaying a year, because she had to complete that leg of her journey before the ice broke up. They hadn’t, of course, remotely got the measure of the woman they were dealing with. With a little help from her ever-increasing circle of friends, she was on her way again (complete with her big toe) inside 4 weeks.
Just a Little Run Around the World works on so many different levels – it’s an adventure story, a love story, a geography lesson, a social commentary and a window into worlds that most of us never even knew existed. It’s also, most extraordinarly, a book that’s almost completely devoid of ego. Rosie genuinely believes she’s the least important person in it.
In her introduction, she says, “I’m only an ordinary woman.”
It’s the most outrageous statement in the entire book.
Harper True, Harper Collins. 2009. ISBN: 978-0-00-730620-6. 326pp.
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Moira will be interviewing Rosie about “Just a Little Run Around the World” and other things just as soon as she manages to throw a tarpaulin over her and nail it down at the corners …