Nelson Mandela: “No Easy Walk to Freedom”
By Barry Denenberg
(Scholastic, 4th Edition 2014, New York, $6.99)
Much mythologized in both Africa and the West, the late Nelson Mandela was often called the father of his country. It should come as no surprise, then, that a biography of Mandela should also be a history of South Africa. In Nelson Mandela: No Easy Walk to Freedom, Barry Denenberg has created a riveting biography of Mandela and his nation for young adults. The most recent edition contains information about the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg and Mandela’s final years.
To give readers some context about Mandela and his struggles, Denenberg tells South Africa’s story from the beginning of white settlement through the present day. He does not avoid controversy; he explores such difficult subjects as the intraracial violence that pervaded some factions of the anti-apartheid movement, Mandela’s friendship with world leaders who opposed U.S. military and economic hegemony, and the economic disparity and allegations of political corruption that have plagued post-apartheid South Africa. Occasionally, however, Denenberg oversimplifies conflicts. For example, he presents Afrikaners as those most interested in maintaining white supremacy, implying that whites of English descent, even the earliest settlers, supported equality. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the British Empire will know that British colonialism depended on racial stratification.
Although Nelson Mandela is full of facts about South African history, Denenberg also delivers a compelling personal portrait of Mandela. Readers will marvel at the sacrifices he made to dedicate his life to others and the inner strength that allowed him to maintain his dignity – and an exercise regimen – during his twenty-seven years in prison. To illustrate Mandela’s eloquence, Denenberg includes excerpts from Mandela’s many speeches. Here is a quote from a statement Mandela issued in 1985 when he refused to accept the release the government offered him: “Not only I have suffered during these long, lonely wasted years. I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free.” In those lines are the selflessness and conviction with which Mandela has become synonymous. The biography should move teens and adults alike.
-Dorothy A. Dahm