Title: Away Running
Author: David Wright & Luc Bouchard
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Review Copy: Copy from publisher
Availability: Available Now
Summary: Matt and Free discover the dark side of the City of Light.
Neither Matt nor Free ever imagined they would be playing American football in Paris, especially with a team from the poverty-stricken suburb called Villeneuve. Nothing in Matt’s privileged Montreal background has prepared him for the racial tension he encounters. And Free just wants to play football and forget what’s going on back home in Texas.
Review: Before I went to Paris I had a conversation with a writer friend about the Black ex-patriots who lived in Paris during the Harlem Renaissance because they felt that Black Americans were more accepted there than in the US. My friend asked, “so there is no racism in Paris?” Both my traveling buddy and I responded at the same time, “There is, but it’s different, especially towards Black Americans.” We went on to explain the racial tension that existed toward North Africans and other immigrants who live in Paris and how, for some reason, Black Americans were treated differently. So, when I received the email from David Wright about reviewing his book, I got excited because a) it was set in Paris and I was excited to relive through words a city I come to fall in love with, and b) the theme of the novel explored the very topic of my conversation with my friend.
I remember watching with horror and dismay at all the nights of riots that occurred in Paris after the three boys were electrocuted, which is the event Away Running is based on. Touched by the event, Wright and Bouchard chose to tell the story of the three boys and the rising tensions that led to the riots through the eyes of Freeman (Free) Behanzin and Mathieu (Matt) Dumas. Both young men are football stars in their hometowns on the brink of playing college ball. They also feel weighted down by family pressures and see their time in Paris as an opportunity to vacation while spending time doing something they loved. What they receive is an education that changes them greatly.
Instead of starting with the tragic event that causes the riots, Wright and Bouchard have us spend time getting to know the three boys in their friendship with Free and Matt. At the beginning, I wasn’t too fond of Matt because his privilege, even though he went to join the Villeneuve team specifically, was flat out annoying. His complete ignorance towards race and people of color experience life was expected because I knew that was part of his growth, however his inner thoughts towards Free really got on my nerves. He would judge/make fun of the way Free would talk in English and in French. He was making the same judgements towards Free that irritated him when other people would judge his Villeneuve friends. Though, Free did eventually call him on it, but I felt there was a missed opportunity for Matt to reflect on what Free said to him. I feel like some moments within Matt’s head as he grows to understand race and privilege through everything he experiences would have endeared me towards him more. Free also had to explore his own prejudice through the novel as he had preconceived notions about Arabs that bordered on Islamaphobia. His comes from his own personal experience with his father being deployed in Iraq, however, he does come to the realization that he is wrong and changes his views. It is through a touching moment with a friend’s father that really changes Freeman.
I like books that don’t insult the reader, books that don’t sugar coat the ugliness of life, and I’m glad that Wright and Bouchard chose to show the reality of life for North Africans living in Paris. When people think of Paris, they think of the beautiful City of Lights (and it is) but there are also dark parts to it that if you focus on just glittering city, you can miss what the true city is like. I remember taking note of some of the darker parts, the riots actually on my mind, so this novel brought all of those thoughts back. Wright and Bouchard did not hold back in showing the ugly racism that exists and how there are basically two sides to Paris. Both Matt and Free, because of their privilege (Free is there initially through a student exchange program and lives with a host family) live in the neighborhoods of Paris that we see in movies with the quaint architecture and beautiful streets. Villeneuve is the opposite of that, and the way the residents are treated is deplorable. Wright and Bouchard could have chosen to soften the blow, but they didn’t. The racist experiences Matt and Free witness (and experience), including the riots, are brutal and raw. The authors respect their readers, as they respect their characters, by giving us what life is really like in the City of Lights.
Recommendation: If you love football and or love Paris, this is a good book for you.