Sunday, July 6, 2014

Good Morning, Mr. Mandela by Zelda la Grange

Good Morning, Mr. Mandela: A MemoirA couple of weeks ago I hosted a giveaway of this title here on my blog. The chosen recipient, Maria Grazia, has agreed to write a short review of the book, which I am publishing here. After her comments, I have added my own. You have two reviews, therefore, to help you decide to read this lovely paean to Nelson Mandela, often called by his tribal name Madiba.
------------------Maria Grazia's review---------------------------------
I’m the surprised recipient of the copy of the Zelda la Grande’s memoir that Viking has made available through this blog. Like many other works in this genre, this memoir is not an example of high literary achievement. Nevertheless I’ve really enjoyed reading it and learned more about one of the most inspiring figure of our time. In “Good Morning, Mr. Mandela”, Zelda la Grande gives us an intimate portrait of this great humanitarian and political figure - the driver of her transformation from a conservative, young Afrikaner to a woman who devoted almost twenty years of her life to serve a man whom she had been brought up to consider as an enemy and whom instead she came to love. As you read through la Grande’s sincere account of her personal journey, you get to know more about “Khulu” or “Grandfather” as she used to call South Africa’s first democratically-elected president. Nelson Mandela comes across as a gentle individual who was sincere in expressing his feelings and in his interaction with others - who else would greet the Queen of England using her first name? But we are also shown he was frank and intolerant of disloyalty. His smile radiates across the pages of this memoir and you can understand how the young la Grande could not remain immune to his charisma. Throughout her interaction with Mandela, first timid on her part and then characterized by mutual respect and affection, la Grande shows us how she shed her racial prejudices and became an anti-apartheid supporter. It is sad to see how this great man who treated all those around him with such a great respect, at the end of his life and when he could no longer defend himself, had his feelings trashed and became a pawn in the hands of others who did not have his best interest in mind.
------------------------------My Review----------------------------
This very unusual and intimate portrait of Zelda la Grange’s time with Nelson Mandela as his personal secretary is as heartbreaking as it is memorable. Zeldina, as Madiba chose to call her, was applying for a typist job in the new ANC government in 1994 when word came that the President’s office needed a typist. A white Afrikaner, Zelda became the youngest of the rainbow staff that served the President. In time, she grew to manage his schedule and to accompany him on trips abroad.

This book does tell us about Mandela, what he was like in person, and what he liked. But it is mostly about Zelda and how she managed Mandela’s hectic schedule during and after his presidency. She seems an exceptional person: focused, persistent, caring. Mandela came to rely on her to organize his life and to cater for his needs. It is nice to know there was someone willing and able to take that role for a man who had given so much to the world. “Professional co-dependency” is the phrase la Grange uses to describe their relationship.

Mandela comes across as a disciplined but gentle man, nevertheless with strong opinions and beliefs. Some lessons Mandela imparted to those he worked with I hope stay with me: “Remember, the way you approach someone will determine how that person reacts to you” and “a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” Willing to acknowledge his own errors, he forgave them in others, but he was also able and willing to cut off from his life those whom he felt did not have his interests at heart. Zelda comes across as a well-meaning, capable administrator and caregiver who had an immersive, full-on style. Madiba was her life and work.

One thing that has stayed with me long after reading this book is that la Grange often felt it necessary to explain to people what her job was--what she did all day. It was not hard for me to imagine the amount of energy, drive, intelligence, hutzpa, charm, and brazen bullishness it would require to make a famous person feel their international travel experiences were as seamless, smooth, and productive as possible. Her job is a perfect example of what I would use to demonstrate the incongruity of wage disparity in a country like the United States. The head of a corporation (or country, in this case) is only as good as the secretary organizing his schedule, travel plans, and obligations. Let's face it, we'd all look pretty good with a Zelda at our backs. But we're no Mandela.

La Grange was circumspect with what she revealed, but we do get a sense of great division and confusion at the end of Mandela’s life, for which we feel sorry. Despite his ‘great man’ status, Mandela could only keep the divisions among races and personalities in his sphere manageable while he was well and circulating regularly. As he became older, it sounds as though his lessons about forgiveness and generosity of spirit were lost on those he hoped to influence. Mandela was kind. Let’s hope his legacy is not completely lost for all time.

Viking Penguin offered me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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