Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom”, tells the story of the great man through his own eyes and words. He chronicles his life in Africa from boyhood all the way until he was elected the President of the Republic of South Africa. Like millions (or billions) across the globe, I have been fascinated by the aura and the story of Nelson Mandela who spent three decades of his life incarcerated in his own country under the brutal repression of apartheid. His story of resistance and fight for freedom from the white supremacy for more than 4 decades is fascinating, when seen or read, in brief.
Mandela writes about his childhood, education through college and his impressions of the land that he was born in. For someone like me, with no first-hand experience of South Africa apart from scenes captured on TV during cricket matches and a movie or two, it was difficult to identify with the locale. His references to various regions in South Africa is difficult to picturise without looking at a map or living in the country. Apart from the geographical challenges for the reader, I found myself floundering and getting lost in the various names of fighters in the struggle that the African National Congress had against the government. These names may be popular in South Africa. For one from India, it was difficult to reconcile. Similarly, the various events that he has described in the book are lost in the larger scheme of things for the reader. It could well serve as a History book for those seeking to learn about the struggle for freedom of the Africans.
The good part of the book is that the reader does get an appreciation of the sacrifices that Mandela had to make throughout his life to pursue his political beliefs. There were a few snippets that stayed with me. One of those is the quip from one of his children who said that the nation gained a Father in Nelson Mandela, but the children lost one because of his absence being either jailed or in meetings across the country. His discipline with his exercise regimen and the little routines that he maintained during his incarceration are an inspiration for anyone anywhere. The world was in lockdown during COVID and for many of us, that brief period we had to spend inside our houses was difficult. He spent almost 3 decades closeted within the walls of a prison! He was able to retain his sanity and pursue the fight for freedom for all South Africans from the regime of apartheid through that entire period.
All in all, I found the book to be tedious and long to read. Far from being a page turner, the book languishes through the various journeys that Mandela makes, the meetings that he has with various dignitaries and so on. For a casual reader like me, it took a long time to finish it. Having recently been introduced to the app Blinkist, I’d recommend listening to a summary of the book in 15 minutes rather than endure reading through the Long Walk to Freedom.