Book Review: Long Walk to Freedom

Title: Long Walk To Freedom

Author: Nelson Mandela

Published by: Back Bay Books, New York, 1995

I did not expect this book to have the impact it did on me. As Americans, we often think of our country as ahead of South Africa in race relations due to apartheid regulations remaining in place into the 1990s. However, too much of the socio-political backdrop explained in this book felt very familiar. Many of the attitudes and prevailing thought contributing to the success and power of nationalist government structures are ideologies we hear amongst white Americans today.

One of the key demands Mandela continued to champion, in spite of imprisonment, mistreatment, and risk of death, was a one-person, one-vote system, a system that the Unites States still manages to circumvent through the electoral college system.  By the end of the period of history about which the book is written, South Africa had suspended capital punishment and implemented a one-person, one-vote system.

While it is easy to compare and contrast the Black South Africans’ struggle for equality to the African-Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality because of the Black/White conflict, another important lens for the reader is reminding oneself of the First Nations People of North America. How are the people who lived here before the arrival of Europeans experiencing life in the United States?

This book is an autobiography, a genre I would have never picked up in my younger years, but I decided to dig in and am glad I did! The first few chapters were a little hard to track with at times for a reader who is not familiar with South African landscape, languages, or peoples. The author regularly references places and people by name, and it takes some time to feel comfortable reading all the unfamiliar words. However, the  author’s ability to draw the reader into the experiences and issues at hand are unmatched, and I soon found myself drawn into the story, turning page after page without wanting to stop in the middle!

A few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I had moved from the role of a gadfly within the organization to one of the powers that I had been rebelling against. It was a heady feeling, and not without mixed emotions. In some ways, it is easier to be a dissident, for then one is without responsibility. As a member of the executive, I had to weigh arguments and decisions, and expect to be criticized by rebels like myself.”  (Mandela, 1994)

“I was to have a working holiday, the only kind of holiday I knew how to take.”  (Mandela, 1994)

“I noticed a white woman in the gutter…there were poor whites…but one rarely saw them. I was used to seeing black beggars on the street, and it startled me to see a white one. While I normally did not give to African beggars, I felt the urge to give this woman money. In that moment, I realized the tricks that apartheid plays on one…” (Mandela, 1994)

“I had a not-so-pleasant visit from two Americans, editors of the conservative newspaper the Washington Times.  They seemed less intent on finding out my views than on proving that I was a Communist or a terrorist.  …when I reiterated that I was neither a Communist nor a terrorist, they attempted to show that I was not a Christian…” (Mandela, 1994)

“Anything that departs from this pattern upsets the authorities, for routine is the sign of a well-run prison.” (Mandela, 1994) {Blogger’s note: I couldn’t help but notice that, in American society, the word “school” could easily replace the word “prison” in this sentence.)

“But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”  (Mandela, 1994)

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