Books

Of Selflessness and Commiseration: Nelson Mandela’s 'Conversations With Myself'

Publicity photo (photographer unknown)

Conversations With Myself is a collage of important moments that provide an intensely realistic portrayal of an amazing man.


Conversations with Myself

Publisher: Picador
Length: 480 Pages
Author: Nelson Mandela
Price: $13.49
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2011-09
Amazon

In view of his recent health problems, I was drawn once again to the wonder that is the story of Nelson Mandela’s life, but instead of reading his autobiography I decided on a new release that is perhaps even more personal. Consciously titled Conversations With Myself, is a book made solely of Mandela’s letters and recordings. Reading it feels a bit like spying on someone’s private diary, full of moments that differ on importance but end up providing a truthful portrait of a man who refuses to be viewed as a legend.

There are excerpts about his imprisonment and his tenacity in fighting for his cause, but it is his struggle to be viewed as a simple human being that is the most striking aspect of the work; the humility he demonstrates in face of his achievements is nothing if not commendable. The book includes a foreword by Barack Obama, in which the President writes that Mandela’s willingness to admit and own up to his faults is what makes him such an example: “(…) Nelson Mandela reminds us that he has not been a perfect man. Like all of us, he has his flaws. But it is precisely these imperfections that should inspire each and everyone of us.” The difference between humans and saints is that saints don’t give up – not that they, being human, never sin.

Mandela was raised between two worlds. His education was English, but his culture was African. This dual disposition, which the book demonstrates well, was what allowed him to fight to preserve his own ethnicity through democratic, western standards: “Western civilization did not completely erase my African origin (…) I still respect the elders in our community and I enjoy talking with them about the old times, when we had our own government and lived in freedom,” he wrote when he was already in prison. This ability to live between two realities made him an observer of human behavior, taught him to analyze the differences in expectations and experience.

Remarkably, Mandela never stopped trusting people; in fact, trust is something he considers to be one of his greatest virtues, even if others see it as his greatest weakness or downfall. The texts show that he could have left prison much sooner than he actually did, and that his refusal to all offers was due to steel determination to settle for nothing less than what he believed was right for his people. He could not have done it without faith, but most of all he could not have done it without trust in his fellow human beings.

Mandela writes that we all know we cannot control everything around us, but that we forget we can control the way we react to them. The logic is simple, and yet it speaks a lot about the man. He claims mistakes are inherent to all political action, but that with time and willingness to critically assess one’s work, one can acquire the experience and vision to avoid common errors and make correct decisions, even amidst the pressing rush of troubled events.

If he was an 'in-betweener', if you will, he was also ahead of his time in many aspects. His position in regards to women, for example, is heartening. He praises women's intelligence and deems necessary their public involvement in social and political issues. It is this awareness of others beyond himself, and society in general, that never ceases to inspire.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.