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Now I know Nelson Mandela
am 26. Juni 2000
Take out a pen and sheet of paper and write down everything you know about Nelson Mandela. If you can't go beyond a few sentences then you should read his autobiography. Not only will you know who he is, but you will also get a sense of knowing him personally.
I myself did not know too much about the man, despite having lived in South Africa for two years in the early 1980s (from age 10 to age 12).
The first two sections of the book, covering his childhood and his first years in Johannesburg (up to page 92), is disjointed, covering various moments that wre particularly memorable for Mandela. Of course this is nearly mandatory for an autobiography. However after Mandela starts law practice, a coherent story finally develops and the big payoff begins. Don't expect any earth-shattering revelations--there are none; what you'll get is a progressive page-turning story of someone, who through determination and tactful mediation, gradually became the largest force in the movement to dismantle apartheid.
Mandela does not preach his political views. You will get insight into them no doubt, but Mandela prefers to indulge in his and others' circumstances and his tactics to improve them. As strange as it may sound, a "stubborn man of compromise" is how I would describe him in keeping the movement intact. Of course only one so stubborn would reject a virtually inherited position as a "counselor" to pursue something more worthy, despite being pigeon-holed under apartheid. His wit and charisma proved valuable. When his activities inevitably led him into legal trouble, many enforcing apartheid could not hide their respect.
One may expect the coverage of his decades in prison to be boring. In fact, enough had transpired over those thousands of days for condensation into very interesting prose. The funniest and most amazing instances occurred here.
After finishing the book, I had a sense that persistence is the best attribute for outright success.
There is one minor weakness I want to mention: Mandela occasionally throws a lot of names at you, especially in the beginning. I have trouble remembering the names of people I meet, so how am I supposed to remember who's who for people with whom I cannot associate a face? I think Mandela wanted to make sure no friend was excluded from the book.
If you find yourself confused by all the names concentrate on Oliver and Walter, they are two of the most important figures.