The brutality of Jonah Lomu's childhood packs such a wallop in his book's opening pages that the rest of his life story seems to blur alongside it.

The hugely anticipated book, Jonah My Story, kicks off with searingly intimate details of his South Auckland upbringing and of beatings he suffered at the hands of his father.

It is hard to imagine the giant winger as a small boy cowering under the covers, or being hit with an electric cord and trying to cover his bruises for school.


But for the first time, in simple yet emotionally taut language, Lomu reveals what led to the relationship breakdown with his father, and what caused such hate in his 15-year-old self that he picked up his father and threw him on the floor.

"The hate had been brewing inside me for years - hate which started the day I was taken away from Tonga. Taken by parents I never knew ... That day my father had been on the juice. That day he raised his hand to hit me - again."

After Lomu hit back against his "problem drinker" father, who also had hit Lomu's mother, he was disowned. "That day was the last I ever spent as a son under the roof of my parents' home."

The tales evoke mental images of Once Were Warriors in the reader - and, it turns out, in Lomu himself, who says he choked up watching the movie.

"As I watched the film I found myself reliving my childhood."

His father's religious conversion saved his younger sisters and brothers, who "got to see a father who was a better man", but "it came too late for me and John".

Thus we learn the real reason he did not have his parents to either of his weddings. "I would love to have had my mother at the wedding, but it would almost certainly have meant war between her and my father ... Maybe people will see things differently when they have read the story of my early childhood."

There, he seems to say, with less umbrage than could be expected. Read this and judge me now.

The young Lomu hung out with a gang that beat people up on the streets and stole cars. It could have all gone so differently, but he was saved by school sport and Chris Grinter, the deputy headmaster of Wesley College - "the first real father figure since I had left Tonga".

After its dramatic opening, which also reveals the dreadful toll of Lomu's kidney disease on his rugby and life, the book becomes a different beast, a lively and good-natured romp through Lomu's rise from schoolboy rugby player to global superstar.

Anyone hoping for any juicy gossip about bust-ups, rugby-related or otherwise, will be disappointed.

It seems unfair to say that he glosses over his two major relationships before he married Fiona Taylor (the only woman featured in the many photographs that dot the book).

Probably more true is that Lomu has long moved on emotionally, and the experiences with Tanya Rutter and Teina Stace must compete with what was happening with his rugby career at the same time.

We do learn, though, that Lomu obviously now thinks he was too young to marry. "I was 20 years old, she (Rutter) was 19 - and I thought, 'Yeah, this is the real thing!' "

In any event, there is no criticism of either woman. With Stace, he simply remarks that he was "no longer in love with her".

It must be said, though, that there are two pages devoted to cars and speed - "my drug" - and another two to "food, glorious food", from which we learn that during one sitting at the 1999 World Cup, Lomu devoured two Big Macs, two Quarter Pounders, two Filets-o-Fish, two McChickens, fries, and a 20-piece pack of chicken nuggets.

There is nothing to learn about the split between Lomu and his long-time agent, Phil Kingsley Jones, as it happened after the book went to the printers.

Adler's interviews for the book were conducted mainly from the foot of Lomu's bed and the informality of such sessions comes through in the conversational prose.

Such as when Colin Meads hands him his first All Black jersey: "I was shitting myself," Lomu recalls.

And the "crap" that Kingsley Jones dealt with: "Being called Mr 20 per cent and all that".

He has an amusing, peevish obsession with the "crap" he has got from the media. "I mean, where do they get some of their stuff from?"

Besides his father, and the media, the harshest criticism could be of the New Zealand public for the way they treated "Harty" (coach John Hart) and captain Taine Randell after the 1999 World Cup failure. Lomu was "ashamed" of his country.

Lomu has avoided any tales of negativity or bitterness about his rugby career or anyone in it. So it sometimes seems the "real" story is yet to be told.

Despite this, the book reveals more about Lomu than anything before it. Adler has boiled down 40 hours of interviews to uncover a man of greater depth than we realised.

His struggle with aspects of his Tongan culture, his complex relationship with his family, his battle with illness and desire to get back on top of his game are laid bare.

It is a must-read, and there is room for a sequel.

As Lomu himself puts it, "I'll be 32 in 2007 - that's World Cup year. I love rugby and I love Paris. Like they say, watch this space."

* Hodder Moa Beckett, $49.99