Book Review: Blood, Sweat and Treason – Henry Olonga, My Story

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by Ben Roberts (lead image courtesy of cricketpix.com)

If you were looking to pick up a book that is not the ‘bog’ standard ghosted autobiography of a sports person, then this is the read for you. That former Zimbabwean cricketer Henry Olonga has been allowed to tell his story in his own words was incredibly refreshing for this addict of cricketing literature. Most sports persons biographical works use clichéd wording and structure to try and breath life into their uninteresting lives. This story has not been manipulated to make good reading; recognition that Olonga’s story itself is good reading.

Although maybe more widely known as a cricketer who took a political stand against a tyrannical regime, Olonga speaks of himself throughout the book always as just a man. Cricket is a part of a life where it intertwines with music, art, faith, family and politics. Predominately told in chronological order, events move seamlessly between these topics as life was lived for him.

Take Olonga’s Christian faith for an example. Often an individuals faith will either be minimally mentioned in an introduction or ‘covered off’ in a specific chapter under advisement from publishing house editors worried about sales. But here we find Olonga regularly referring back to his faith and prayer life, it ebbing and flowing as his life ebbs and flows.

He is a deep thinking and sensitive soul, keen to explore in retrospect the events of his life and make apology where he believes he wronged others. His stand along with Andy Flower during the 2003 Cricket World Cup is not told in a heroic manner. Presented with an opportunity to stand up against Robert Mugabe and the wrongs perpetrated, Olonga made the decision that he could not stand passively by any more while his country suffered.

Olonga does not dwell on describing the terrible atrocities committed in Zimbabwe in recent history. Selected examples of events affecting his life up until the point he went into exile serve the purpose enough of educating the reader on his motives. Despite the terrible events, and the struggle that life in Zimbabwe is for most of her citizens there is no bitterness in Olonga and a substantial amount of love for his country still. In an amazing passage of the book Olonga describes his shock at the poverty in Bangladesh. This is not the shock of an upper middle class westerner on their first visit overseas, but of a man well versed in what injustices exist in the world.

Olonga’s life needed and received much blessing post his 2003 stand, but it has not been easy nor necessarily freeing for him. Nevertheless he chose to tell his story that reaches far beyond the ‘faux’ battle that is the professional sports field.

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