When I began to read Mandela and the General, supplied to me for free by Plough Publishing House, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s a graphic novel based on the true events of the Apartheid in South Africa, as well as actual interviews book author John Carlin had with Nelson Mandela’s main opposition after he was freed. It’s not something I’ve researched or know that much about, and yet the man that is Mandela is so notorious I couldn’t help but be interested. This is a graphic novel that reveals the events that transpired to change South Africa, and save democracy in the country, as we know it.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Will the freedom struggle end in a bloodbath? Only two men can avert it. . . .
Why does this matter?
Aside from this being a historical retelling of events, it’s also a story about two men on opposite sides attempting to do the right thing for their constituency. They are both intelligent and strong leaders, and this graphic novel reveals the battle they had to endure publicly while privately meeting in a surprisingly civil, but mutually understanding way.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This is a wonderful book that captures the pulse of the time vividly well. It sets up how the country was reeling from decades of racism, explains what the freedom of Nelson Mandela meant for the people of South Africa, and details the incredibly tense and sometimes dangerous events that lead to the eventual easing of tensions of the country. After reading this book I felt not only entertained but smarter for the knowledge that is delivered in a succinct 112 pages.
It does all this while also supplying an intimate look at the struggle Mandela and General Constand Viljoen went through while attempting to keep their constituents at ease. There is a psychological drama unfolding as you read this book revealing how Viljoen was aware of the surge Mandela was instilling on the country that he and his mostly racist compatriots could not stop. You get the impression Viljoen was smart, but also part of an older way of doing things. Carlin does not sell this man short, nor does he portray him as a villain. Instead, he is complex and understandable even if he was on the wrong side of history. At the same time, Mandela is dealing with his own compatriots who want to go to war and show no compassion for Viljoen and what he represents even though this could mean more violence and upheaval. Carlin reveals a side of Mandela that is incredibly virtuous, but also calm and collected. He was a great leader and there are lessons learned while reading this that Mandela preaches to his people behind closed doors that very well could have saved thousands of lives.
The art by Oriol Malet has a sketchy quality, possibly using marker, that gives the work a flashback quality that helps establish it is detailing the past. The use of light blue for shadows helps keep the markings simplistic so when splashes of color are used it’s striking. There’s a minimalist look to the work that keeps your eye on the right elements of a scene like Mandela’s orange shirt while he’s surrounded by drab blue and blacks to help show the light he brought to the table. The book is unique in its stylings, further separating this work from the pack.
It can’t be perfect can it?
Some of the art in the earlier pages can be too cartoonish for its own good, stylizing characters in ways that make you unsure how seriously you should take the work. It’s really only an issue in the first few pages, but it pops up from time to time, pulling me out of the story. The art scales that back as it goes on, though, and that gives the narrative a surer foot.
Is it good?
A historical book that will not only entertain, but teach. It captures the pulse of the time vividly well and should be read by anyone with even the faintest interest in the subject. Politicians today could learn a thing or two from this work.