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Nelson Mandela : The Authorized Comic Book
Nelson Mandela Foundation; Umlando Wezithombe (illus.) Nelson Mandela : The Authorized Comic Book. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. $27.95, ISBN 9780393070828 / 0393070824ISBN Paper 9780393336467 / 0393336468 .

Note: South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994), adapted in graphic form. (CABA Winner)


Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book, a graphic novel published by Norton Books is a collaborative project between The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Umlando Wezithombe (History of Pictures), a comic production company. The book is as the title suggests a visual representation of the life and times of Nelson Mandela also affectionately known by his clan name, Madiba. A collection of a series of nine separate comics first released in South Africa in October 2005, Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book is an ambitious project. Divided into eight chapters, the story of Nelson Mandela's life unfolds in beautifully drawn graphic images accompanied with narrative text. Of course the telling of Mandela's life is also a history lesson of the struggle of a people for basic human rights and dignity.

One's reverence and veneration of Nelson Mandela is solidified and amplified when reading and viewing this book. Nelson Mandela's accomplishments are well known- indeed he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions-, but when reading Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book the reader is completely immersed in apartheid South Africa. The illustrations serve to transport the reader to specific times and places so that the reader feels as if s/he is experiencing the events in real time. The sacrifices Madiba has made for his country are inspirational. Mandela's capacity to forgive and ability to reconcile are nothing short of miraculous. The book is not only a tribute to Madiba, it is also a tribute to Mandela's friends, colleagues, and comrades in the struggle. Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Bram Fischer, and Oliver Tambo are a few of the many comrades whose contributions to the struggle against the apartheid regime are documented in this book.

The book is surprisingly dense and you need some time to work your way through it. It's not a particularly easy read. In some ways, it's even more time-consuming than a strictly prose novel in that the reader has to concurrently absorb the dense historical facts and implications while at the same time studying the gorgeous illustrations. While reading I found myself jotting down names of people and places, names of apartheid laws, and dates in an attempt to construct a timeline to keep track of the storyline. Compared to Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis or Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie's Aya, two graphic novels I have most recently enjoyed, Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book takes considerably more time to read. It took several sittings of a total of about ten hours to complete Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book. It isn't an easily consumable book. But then reading about oppression isn't meant to be easy. Oppression is painful and infuriating and perhaps that is what makes this project so successful. As a reader/ viewer you experience the oppression first hand. You are transported to the streets of Sophiatown during the forced removals, Sharpeville during the massacre, confinement in Old Drill Hall and B section on Robben Island, and hard labor in Johannesburg mines and stone quarries. The index in the back of the book is a useful tool to keep track of people, parties, legislation, and campaigns. Gorgeously illustrated, Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Graphic Novel is a love song to one of the greatest men in the history of the world. I highly recommend this book for Grades 7 and above.

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Rating: HR Grade: M / H / AD Type: Book

Reviewed by: Illana Lancaster, George Washington University

Subject: South Africa / Nelson Mandela / Biography / Presidents / Comic books