Publisher: Hachette India
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“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
– Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom
I am not usually interested in autobiographies as I find them uninteresting or too long. But I have always wanted to read about a few great people and Mr. Mandela was one of them. And so I picked this after hearing about his demise. I am truly grateful to have read this book because it not only told me his life story but also enlightened me on my rather poor knowledge of the South African freedom struggle.
The book starts with Mr. Mandela describing his family’s relationship with the Thembu royal family, his father’s occupation and his happy childhood in his village. Named ‘Rolihlahla’ which means ‘troublemaker’, you see the rebel in him since his childhood. The book has been appropriately structured to recount the various stages of Mr. Mandela’s life – his childhood at Qunu, his stay as a ward with the regent – Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo at Mqhekezweni, his education at Clarkebury, Healdtown, Fort Hare and Witwatersrand, his early involvement with the African National Congress, his failed marriage to Evelyn Mase, his practice as a lawyer, his increasing involvement in the fight for freedom, the Treason Trial, his life after he went underground, his re-arrest and conviction that led to 18 years in prison, his release and his latter efforts and labor that led to liberation of South Africa.
You can easily see the transition of an innocent child to an educated nonchalant young man to an obedient non-violent, peace loving lawyer who after repeated attempts learns that violent protest is the only way to win Independence. The speech he gives while advocating his principles in the court during the trial is a remarkable one and is a must read for everyone.
The woes of the harsh prison life – insanity inducing solitary confinements, unhygienic living conditions, police brutality have been vividly explained. Similarly, the oppression of the Africans by the Whites, who are just 8.9% of the total South African population, seems audacious! From one of Mr. Mandela’s experiences –
‘We were standing outside the post office when the local magistrate, a white man in his sixties, approached Paul and asked him to go inside to buy him some postage stamps. It was quite common for any white person to call on any black person to perform a chore’
And I simply loved Mr. Mandela’s outlook on life. It is clearly illustrated in the last passage of his book, where he says –
‘I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended’
It is quite an accomplishment to write an autobiography without sounding pompous or self-important and Mr. Mandela does this beautifully. He has conveyed his emotions artfully, making the readers empathize with his and his fellowmen’s sufferings. His genuine rage at the ‘Whites’ atrocities against Africans and Indians and other races of color has been stalwartly expressed. The slightly unsettling feeling that one experiences at his privileging of social responsibility over family is mollified by his explanation of the logic behind it.
The book is huge with 645 pages full of minute print but once you read it, you will be left surprised at how something so profound has been written in such a straightforward manner. When you finish this riveting book, you are left with a sense of liberation and inspiration. This book is a must read for everyone as there is no better story of a hero than a real one.
If you like reading autobiographies of eminent leaders, you might want to read our review of My Experiments With Truth by Mahatma Gandhi.