Mandela: In Celebration of a Great Life. 2nd edition/A Prisoner in the Garden: Photos, Letters, and Notes from Nelson Mandela's 27 Years in Prison

By Gish, Steven | African Studies Review, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Mandela: In Celebration of a Great Life. 2nd edition/A Prisoner in the Garden: Photos, Letters, and Notes from Nelson Mandela's 27 Years in Prison


Gish, Steven, African Studies Review


Charlene Smith. Mandela: In Celebration of a Great Life. 2nd edition. Cape Town: Struik Publishers, 2003. 184 pp. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $35.00. Cloth.

Nelson Mandela Foundation. A Prisoner in the Garden: Photos, Letters, and Notes from Nelson Mandela's 27 Years in Prison. New York: Penguin, 2006. 209 pp. Photographs. Bibliography. $29.95. Cloth.

Not surprisingly, the literature on South Africa's most famous son has grown steadily during the last several years. Charlene Smith and the Nelson Mandela Foundation have recendy added to this literature by producing richly illustrated books designed to honor Mandela and to appeal to a broad audience.

Smith's Mandela: In Celebration of a Great Life, is a coffee table book of photographs depicting Mandela's life and career. Smith, a South African journalist, published a popular book on Robben Island in 1997 and has received widespread publicity for speaking out on AIDS in South Africa. Her latest work is more of a tribute to Mandela than an analysis of his life. Smith's text skims over Mandela's youth and early career and focuses instead on his involvement in the antiapartheid movement in the 1950s, his imprisonment, and his role in South Africa after his release from prison in 1990.

This is an attractive book, richly illustrated with excellent photographs, in color and black and white. Many of the photographs have not been widely published before, and their quality is uniformly high. The quality of the text is less consistent. On the positive side, Smith draws upon interviews with Mandela, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Desmond Tutu, and Govan Mbeki to enliven her account. She skillfully describes Mandela's ability to promote reconciliation in South Africa and offers insights into Mandela's relationship with Thabo Mbeki and the differences in style between the two leaders. Although Smith obviously admires Mandela, she is not afraid to be critical.

However, Smith's claim that her book "contains more original research than any book published previously on this great man" is an exaggeration. Some of her text reads like a time line of dates and events without analysis or a smooth, overarching narrative. Too often the book suffers from a lack of chronology, such as when it goes from discussing the Rivonia trial (1963-64) to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe (1961) to the apartheid laws passed by the Nationalist government (after 1948). Because the chronological framework is weak, the author tends to repeat information. She sometimes overquotes her sources as well, especially the minutes of meetings. And several mistakes appear, such as those regarding the age of Hector Petersen (the first fatality in the 1976 Soweto unrest), the date P. W. Botha became prime minister, and the occupation of Jesse Jackson, who is erroneously referred to as a U.S. senator.

A Prisoner in the Garden: Photos, Letters, and Notes from Nelson Mandela's 27 Years in Prison is another attractive book, profusely illustrated with photographs, artifacts, letters, and other documents from Mandela's long incarceration. …

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