This Voice in My Heart was written by world-class distance runner, elite coach and Austin resident, Gilbert Tuhabonye. I’ve known about Gilbert for quite some time – first through my sister, Kerri, and brother-in-law, Dave, who have each done some training with Gilbert’s Gazelles and most recently through my old friend J.B. who recommended I read this book. I did read the book. And I liked it a lot. But I wasn’t going to review it because it came out a couple of years ago and I try and keep the reviews current. However, it occurs to me now that the book is more topical than ever since the Olympics are going on now and there is still the horrific continuation of genocide going on in the world (Darfur for example).
Tuhabonye alternates the narrative in This Voice in My Heart between his almost idyllic upbringing in his native Burundi and his harrowing (that’s putting it lightly actually) survival of a brutal genocidal attack when he was a teenager. You may or may not be familiar with Burundi but you’ve no doubt heard of Rwanda and the atrocities that went on there between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes in the early 1990’s. Burundi borders Rwanda and is also inhabited by Hutu and Tutsi and the violence that scars the two countries is obviously closely related. Tuhabonye (a Tutsi) grew up relatively untouched by this bad blood until his school was attached by a mob of Hutus. Over 100 students and teachers were either hacked to death with machetes or doused with gasoline and burned to death. Gilbert Tuhabonye was the only survivor. And you thought you had a bad day today.
While genocide survival makes for a searing narrative it’s the juxtaposition of this story against Tuhabonye’s otherwise fairly normal upbringing (as normal as can be for someone who is one of best runners in his entire country) that makes the text so readable. When reading about Gilbert’s life before the attack one wonders how it could ever get to that violent point and when reading about his life after the attack one wonders how he could create the life he’s led since. For Gilbert the answer to the latter question can be summed up in one word: faith.
During the attack Gilbert heard a voice saying, “You will be all right; you will survive.” He believes it was God speaking to him and he has led a life expressing a profound gratitude for that gift of survival, that gift of life – from the rest of his time in Burundi to his time in the U.S. where he graduated from Abilene Christian University and now lives and works in Austin.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, for some grace in the face of tragedy then look no further than This Voice in My Heart. There’s also plenty of running for your athletic side. And just in case you’re curious: Gilbert was injured during training and consequently is not representing his native Burundi in this current edition of the Olympics in Beijing.