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Vivid portraits and a remarkable journey,
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This review is from: Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda's Cycling Team (Hardcover)
Land of Second Chances is focused on three intriguing characters: One of the founders of mountain biking, cycle manufacturer Tom Ritchey; the first American to ride in the Tour de France, trainer Jock Boyer; and Adrien Niyonshuti, a Rwandan cyclist who overcame the murder of his six brothers (and many other dreadful experiences) to become Rwanda's first professional sportsman - assisted by Ritchey and Boyer.
But this is much more than a tripartite biography. Lewis contextualises Niyonshuti's journey with a recent Rwandan history - concentrating on the genocide but also sketching political developments. We learn about Niyonshuti's contemporaries both in Rwanda and elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa as Lewis rigorously deciphers the immense cultural dissimilarities between the West and Rwanda, including some insightful and sometimes comic anecdotes.
Middle- and long-distance running are dominated by athletes from Eastern Africa, and anticipating a change in the racial makeup of competitors in the Grand Tours, Lewis asks: why not cycling? He also attempts to unpick the will-to-win inherent in the Rwandan team, and analyses the difficulties of transplanting a Western training methodology into central Africa.
I found the panoply of names, dates and races three quarters of the way through slightly confusing, and the genocide means a sad undercurrent runs through the book, but despite the tragedy underpinning life in Rwanda I finished the book feeling hope and anticipation for the future of Niyonshuti and his compatriots. This is a vivid, sometimes shocking, always absorbing story told with the stolid journalistic dexterity and clarity one might expect from a Guardian and Observer feature writer.