by Nelson Mandella, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 11, 2010) hardcover
Imagine dumping a puzzle on the table and picking up a piece at random. What does that piece tell you about the finished picture? How about if you pick up a few more and look at them together, can you then get the picture? Of course not, but that’s what you have to do here, and you have to keep on looking until that picture comes together.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent book filled with insights into the mind of a great man. Conversations with Myself isn’t so much a book as a literary album, containing snippets of Mandela’s life, bits from diaries, calendars, letters, and also transcripts from 50 hours of recordings by Richard Stengel, who ghosted Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom (and is now editor of Time magazine). It also contains passages from an autobiography Mandela had been working on himself, now abandoned and it’s contents included in this book, in moments snatched here and there.
If that all sounds somewhat scattershot and untidy, it is and it isn’t. I wish the book had been arraigned in chronological order instead in thematic sections, as that would have helped the reader understand events better. Oddly it’s not. There are some very moving passages, but much of the book is raw and has a feeling of haphazardness. The way it’s told, as in real time with the changes in perspective that brings over the years, is interesting, if one knows enough about the man to put facts together and see that picture I talked about at the beginning of this review.
Conversations With Myself would be an excellent book to read following Mandela’s critically-acclaimed 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. In fact I think it needs to be read after that book. Since I haven’t read the autobiography, or any of the several other biographies available, I was a bit at sea reading this book. There is much here that is good and inspirational, but it was a bit too haphazard for my taste.