"I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system with my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise."
Before I started reading Long Walk to Freedom, I was kicking myself ever so slightly for leaving this book, the very last of my challenge books for the year (eeee!) until last. The reasons for my doing so were fairly obvious- who ever finds a 'good time' in the year for reading a 750 page long autobiography of a politician?- but this also meant that I actually had to read the thing, in December, when obviously I should have been reading A Christmas Carol or something. I'd thrown away that option to read a book about a man who, although I really admired him, and thought he was the cutest old man, I rather feared my love of him was based on that same feeling I used to have for John Major- that of some sort of attachment formed from seeing him on the telly when I was little.
All that was before I read the book.
Because honestly? I didn't realise that 750 pages could go by so quickly. And I definitely didn't think this would be the book to make that happen, because, as much as I assumed I liked Nelson Mandela (and I mean, don't get me wrong, I was pretty sure I did, but I didn't actually know all that much about him and feared that he might have done some really bad things to go to prison: SPOILER He totally didn't) nothing I knew about him exactly SCREAMED interesting and engaging writer. So there's another thing I didn't know about Nelson Mandela.
So. Obviously this is a book about Mandela's life and struggles and his political life inside and out of prison, and of course he's had a much more interesting life than most and that's one reason why this was so readable. It literally goes right from his early days of living with his tribe and being trained up as an advisor to kings, to running away to the Big City (Johannesburg) where he became a lawyer and where he learnt how to be interested in politics, and all the way to his being put in prison pretty much for his beliefs, but also for provisionally planning some acts of sabotage against the government, as one is wont to do in such a deplorable system as apartheid. It's interesting from a historical point of view, but it's also interesting, because it's interesting. Mandela, it seems, could probably have been a writer if the whole politics thing hadn't worked out for him (which arguably it didn't, or at least didn't pay off for a long while) since this is maybe the best written memoir I've read that's actually written by its subject.
Seriously, there's not a single moment where I was bored, and I don't know why that is- maybe because of the writing, maybe because of the story, maybe because the things that Mandela spent his whole life fighting for are things I passionately believe in and I wanted to be there alongside him, living through it with him. This book is good at that because it doesn't really hold back- Mandela is as comfortable talking about his political beliefs as he is about that time he got ritually circumcised (actually, I was less comfortable with that) and he doesn't really hold back on talking about his family, only he does enough for it not to be invasive.
One of my very favourite things about the book, and about the man himself, is that he's so extremely humble when really nobody needs him to be. I mean, he's Nelson Mandela, and if he wanted to be like 'Yeah, I was kind of awesome and here I was right' etc then nobody's going to have a problem with that! Instead, he points out all the times when he was wrong- when he foolishly believed something that someone else showed him was wrong, when he went ahead with something when he should have been restrained like this other person suggested. It's like... It feels like most politicians will never, ever admit to being wrong, whereas Mandela is willing to admit it, because he can show that he's learned from it, and not just stubbornly believed in the same things forever. And that's the kind of person who should be in charge of things, if you ask me.
So. I really liked Long Walk to Freedom, and it's really fortunate that I did, challenge-wise, or I would have FAILED and been sad. But more importantly than that, I learnt a lot and now I know more about Nelson Mandela than just 'doesn't he have a nice face!' and 'I want to hold his hand!' and 'aw, he reminds me of my childhood', and now that I know more, I actually like him more, not less, and still think all of these other things about him. So that's pretty cool.