Run For Your Life by Sue Williams

Reviewed by Norrie Sanders

Rarely does a book cover juxtapose an image of the Kremlin and a map of the Kimberley. If this book was a work of fiction, most readers would consider it far-fetched. But calling this a “remarkable true story” is actually an understatement.

The main storyteller is Nick Stride, a likeable Englishman, seemingly plagued by bad luck. Entering the book in 1998 with a failed marriage, estranged children and a so-so construction job, what could be more logical than to take a job in another failed entity, Russia? He loves the idea of living in exotic countries (or at least ones that are unlike England). The Moscow job offer came on the heels of a holiday in Australia where he felt right at home and even thrived in the heat, dust and humidity of the tropics. So for him at least, Russia seems like the logical next step.

It is not just any job – but the building of a mansion for a prominent Russian politician, Igor Shuvalov, who is on the rise along with his senior comrade, one Vladimir Putin. This is a time when the disintegration of the Soviet Union is still an open wound and Russia is doing poorly. The economy is in tatters and corrupt politicians have handed the country’s assets to themselves and their cronies.

Neither is it a time to offend the elites and their minders – suspicious men who are vigilant for anyone who might not be a loyalist. As a British national with access to Shuvalov’s bank accounts but unconnected to those elites, Nick is treading on thin ice.

A few years in though, he is making money, has married a Russian citizen and has two gifted children. As protection, he also has a memory stick with plenty of dirt on Shuvalov’s financial arrangements. What could possibly go wrong?

Needless to say, with opponents of Putin’s Russia often in the news after stepping out of windows or ingesting radioactive substances, fleeing the country soon becomes the priority for Nick’s family. Not just fleeing, but getting as far away as possible – so why not go to a land that welcomes asylum seekers, John Howard’s Australia?

After a hair-raising exit, things start off pretty well in the antipodes – work is easy to get, the kids excel at school and quickly amass friends. Only two problems: Nick sends the contents of his Shuvalov files to a journalist who promptly publishes an international news story; and worse, they outstay their Aussie visas.  Both actions are not consistent with living a quiet family life in a small West Australian town and they decide to (literally) go native in one of the toughest places in the country – the Kimberley. Minding a small ‘resort’ and helping out indigenous communities gives them temporary accommodation, but eventually they are reduced to beach camping with no income and little food.  It is particularly tough on the two teenagers.

Without giving any more away, throughout the book, the family cycle through adversity and achievement, and to this day, it is unclear which has won out.

The book is a narrative about one man and his family, but works at many levels. It contrasts life and politics in the UK, Russia and Australia at a time of changing power structures and public attitudes. It highlights the abject failure of successive Australian governments’ to humanely deal with people fleeing persecution. Finally, it reinforces the self-evident truth that brutal dictatorships are heinous for most and a meal ticket for an entitled few.

Sue Williams has assembled and delivered the story in a compelling way, a roller coaster ride of adventure and torment. Despite the lessons offered by the content, she has avoided  proselytising in favour of giving us facts and circumstances through the eyes of the family. Nick, and particularly his children, have every right to be bitter about their harsh and stunted lives, yet they all still have great affection for Australia and Australians, despite the government doing its best to treat them as litter. On every level, this book delivers and each page offers experiences to be remembered.

Sue Williams is an award-winning author and journalist. She has written a number of bestselling books, including Father Bob: The Larrikin Priest; Women of the Outback; Mean Streets, Kind Heart: The Father Chris Riley Story and the historical novel Elizabeth & Elizabeth. Sue was born in England, and worked in print and television in the UK and New Zealand. She spent many years travelling around the world before falling in love with Australia in 1989. Since settling here, she has written for many of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines.

 Run For Your Life

(April 2024)

by Sue Williams

Simon & Schuster Australia

ISBN: 978 176142 406 9

$34.99; 304pp


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