Category: Non-fiction, Autobiography
From the son of a Thembu tribe chief to the first democratically elected black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s story is one of extreme hardship and struggle. Before I begin, I would like to emphasize the fact that Nelson Mandela was a great man. He was one of the pioneers of the freedom struggle in South Africa and continues to be a symbol of social justice around the world. The review I’ve written here is about the BOOK, not on Nelson Mandela as a person.
I confess, when I read the book I was a little disappointed. I personally felt that the narrative style wasn’t that great. In many instances, it seemed as if there were too many new characters being introduced at the same time, and the pace at which events moved was a bit slow. This made for a bit of dull and confused reading in the beginning and the book picks up pace only after a few chapters.
However, the book was also extremely informative for me. Apart from learning a lot about South African culture, I learned quite a bit about the mindset of the South African people who lived at that time. Their views on the white man, their initial indifference towards apartheid and how in the beginning everyone focused on the benefits of colonialism instead of renouncing it. As an Indian, I was surprised at how similar the South African liberation struggle was to the Indian struggle for freedom. Nelson Mandela’s defiance campaign had an uncanny resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-cooperation movement. The Sharpeville massacre, where unarmed, peacefully protesting South Africans were shot at was similar to the infamous Jallianwala Bagh incident.
The book is truly exciting to read once the pace picks up. Nelson Mandela’s peaceful ways of protest and his subsequent transformation into an “enemy of the state” during the freedom struggle make for a very interesting read. He would peacefully board trains meant only for whites to protest against apartheid and then would promptly be sent to jail. After the Sharpeville massacre, he caused social unrest in the masses and was declared a terrorist by the government. In the events following his arrest, he describes the appalling conditions of his jail, the cruelty of the guards and the grueling labor. The book is too large for me to have a “favorite part”, but there was one passage which had a pretty profound impact on me as a reader. Nelson Mandela describes his first day of school when his father decided that his son should be dressed properly. He proceeded to cut his only pair of formal trousers at the knees and using a piece of rope as a makeshift-belt, gave it to his son. I learned that when we think about heroes, we often forget that they too had a childhood. They also experienced the little things which we experience every day. Reading about these little things makes us feel closer to these legends, and we can relate better to them.
Overall, this book is quite enlightening, and one of the few autobiographies I’ve managed to finish. The tale of his patience, perseverance, and generosity will inspire any reader to reach new heights. I’d restrict this book to a 4/5, mainly because of the sheer length of the book. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in Nelson Mandela’s life and the history of South Africa. However, make sure you have the necessary patience before you start to read it.