Mandela combines the gift of a natural story-teller with a lawyer's skill in presenting his tale, and from the evocative pictures drawn of his childhood in a rural tribal settlement to the impulsive adventures of youth in Johannesburg, there is an unerring sense of destiny. The image of the run-away youngster gives a telling hint of the spirited courage Mandela would need later when he took on the mantle of political pioneer in a national cause.
The sense of destiny is also there in the long years of imprisonment when Mandela's patience and tolerance are fully tested by the cruelties of long-term confinement. His accounts of rare visits from family and friends, equally rare letters, read and re-read, plus living with memories and photographs of people and places last seen up to two decades before, all have an authentic and poignant ring. Far from being dull or monotonous, the account of the years in prison is absorbing, as Mandela has a gift for bringing alive some colourful anecdotes.
Mandela manages to smooth over some events such as the circumstances of his arrest, his deteriorating relations with Winnie, and whose idea it really was to open negotiations with de Klerk, since I remain unconvinced he could have really been operating outside of previously agreed ANC criteria. However quite enough information is provided to make a full story, and nothing can detract from Mandela's towering achievement in delivering a fledgling democracy without an accompanying and much-feared bloodbath.
The many references Mandela makes to being a "freedom fighter," and his backing for the use of arms in the struggle against apartheid, could read uncomfortably in the light of more recent global terrorism concerns, and it is clear that only someone with his natural integrity could have harnessed those energies to such a constructive outcome.
Heroism, adventure, the fulfilment of destiny following a long period of adversity, plus a measure of the politician's polish in smoothing over the awkward passages, all combine to make Mandela's autobiography a great read. His fluent use of the English language alone makes the book worthwhile , and having finished it I found myself missing the companionable authority of the author's tone. The book as whole helped me to glimpse the workings of the mind of a great statesman at some key historic moments. Highly recommended.