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Long Way to Freedom

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There are always books which you really want to read but which you never get around to reading. For me one of those books is Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. German cover of the book That’s partly due to the book’s length of more than eight hundred pages, partly because I quite love fiction and partly because everybody seemed to have the German translation of the book and I would have preferred to read the English original instead. But after my flatmate got a copy of the German translation as well and read through it in a single weekend, I thought I’d just borrow it from him and give it a go.

It’s a very interesting read, giving many details of Mandela’s life, the way he was brought up and started live his own life which led him to resist the Apartheid suppression. It also gives many details about the ANC, its history and the difficulties they saw. For example in having to balance their fight for freedom with other African forces or the Communists – people they sympathised with but whom it was hard to cooperate with at times.

I sometimes found the book a bit unbalanced as it describes some periods in extreme detail while seemingly skipping others. Some decisions are clearly deduced while others apparently were taken at a whim or at least for reasons which aren’t given in the book. This is not to say that Mandela brushes over his weaknesses. Quite the contrary! It’s refreshing to see someone of his rank to very frankly write about mistakes he made. He’ll describe how they came to make a decision and in the next paragraph will let you know that the decision turned out to be a really bad one many years later.

But what remains the most amazing point about his life is that he kept his optimism and his belief in people being good or at least not hopelessly lost for all his life. When after decades of suppression and many years in prison a prison guard who treated him and his friends really badly for years shows one second of human sentiment, that’s enough to keep Mandela going and thrive his sense that even his worst opponents are just humans.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Perseverance kept Mandela and his spirit alive in prison for decades. And he never gave up finding out what’s going on outside and trying to influence it for good to pave the way to a peaceful change to a democracy in South Africa. I could imagine that people negotiating with him found him stubborn at times. But he had a good point to be so. He started to fight for freedom and democracy in his youth and never left that way later on. His requests didn’t change and that made them and his arguments easy to understand and hard to deny.


Unfortunatley I found that the German translation of the book was very bad. Not only is it full of strange translations of English expressions – which partially may be the result of the translator having to translate the strange names of organisations, but which in some parts really looks like the translator just looked things up in a dictionary and went for a literal translation then. But what’s even worse is that in the German translation Mandela’s writing sounds like he’s a grandpa telling a fairy-tale to his grandchildren. And while I’m sure Mandela is happy to do that – the book is not a fairy tale and I imagine he wrote it more as a hard report than a friendly narrative. The wrong tone for my taste. And that irritated me a lot.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

August 14, 2006, 0:26

Tagged as book, history, nelson mandela.

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