Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: Good Morning, Mr. Mandela by Zelda la Grange

Title: Good Morning, Mr. Mandela
Author: Zelda la Grange
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: June 24, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "A white Afrikaner, Zelda la Grange grew up in segregated South Africa, supporting the regime and the rules of apartheid. Her conservative family referred to the imprisoned Nelson Mandela as “a terrorist.” Yet just a few years after his release and the end of apartheid, she would be traveling the world by Mr. Mandela’s side, having grown to respect and cherish the man she would come to call "Khulu," or “grandfather."

Good Morning, Mr. Mandela tells the extraordinary story of how a young woman’s life, beliefs, prejudices—everything she once believed—were utterly transformed by the man she had been taught was the enemy. It is the incredible journey of an awkward, terrified young secretary in her twenties who rose from a job in a government typing pool to become one of the president’s most loyal and devoted associates. During his presidency she was one of his three private secretaries, and then became an aide-de-camp and spokesperson and managed his office in his retirement. Working and traveling by his side for almost two decades, La Grange found herself negotiating with celebrities and world leaders, all in the cause of supporting and caring for Mr. Mandela in his many roles.

Here La Grange pays tribute to Nelson Mandela as she knew him—a teacher who gave her the most valuable lessons of her life. The Mr. Mandela we meet in these pages is a man who refused to be defined by his past, who forgave and respected all, but who was also frank, teasing, and direct. As he renewed his country, he also freed La Grange from a closed world of fear and mistrust, giving her life true meaning. “I was fearful of so much twenty years ago—of life, of black people, of this black man and the future of South Africa—and I now was no longer persuaded or influenced by mainstream fears. He not only liberated the black man but the white man, too.”"

My Two Cents: 

It is hard not to be fascinated with the life of Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned for his beliefs and for potentially being a terrorist, Mandela was finally released after Apartheid, the segregationist South African political system, fell in the early 90s. He then became the President of South Africa and is credited showing the world how to forgive and how to work together despite differences but this is the part of the story that you know already. In Zelda la Grange's book, we get a much more intimate picture of Mandela and how he interacted with those around him on a personal level. La Grange became a secretary for Mandela during the early days of his presidency and would go on to serve him in various capacities for a few decades!

This is the first time that I have read a book about Nelson Mandela that was not his own memoir or a biography of his life. This is an account by someone who knew him well and it is absolutely fascinating. During Mandela's presidency, he very much wanted to be inclusive of everyone so he made sure to include Afrikaners in his government. La Grange came from a very conservative Afrikaner family and was not sure about the new President at first. As readers see in the book, she was very quickly charmed by him and his caring for other people.

The book is made up of mostly anecdotes and while it does get a bit repetitive, it mostly stays the course of showing a more personal Mandela than the public has been able to see before. La Grange shows a very charismatic man who would be just as interested in an every day person than he would be with a world leader. La Grange seeks to show him as a very kind person with a remarkable life and succeeds.

Having been so young in the early 90s, I never really knew much about the South African government prior to the fall of Apartheid. I only knew of Mandela once he became a world leader. While this book focuses mostly on Madiba's life in the 1990s and 2000s, it does shed a little light on the events that made Mandela who he was prior to those decades. This is a great read about a different side of a great man.



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