Reading Reports
Nelson Mandela

Paolo d’Altan and Viviana Mazza
Nelson Mandela, the Child

Report by Fiammetta Giorgi

A degree in classical literature; after years of experience as an editor, she has been doing translation from German and English, specializing in children’s fiction (translating, among others, Christine Nöstlinger and Ann...

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Richard R. Nybakken is a writer, translator, and historian. He graduated with an AB in history from Dartmouth College, and holds an MA and C.Phil. in modern European history (specializing in...

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The Story
Viviana Mazza, a journalist for il Corriere della Sera, has turned to children’s fiction for the second time, choosing a fictionalized (but faithfully researched and true to life) form to narrate the biography of a great symbolic figure: this time, after Malala, she has depicted Nelson Mandela.

From the very first page she confirms her ability to find an original angle from which to depict History. The narrator is a South African grandmother who tells her five grandchildren about the childhood and adolescence of a boy who became an extraordinary man, invoking the many different names that accompanied him throughout the course of his life. Before the leaping flames of a fire, like a queen without crown or scepter but keenly aware of the power of fables, she retraces the story of Rolihlahla, “he who pulls the branches from the tree,” a great troublemaker who ran barefoot up and down the hills, brought livestock to the shepherds, and rode upon the backs of donkeys; the story of Nelson, who almost forgot to go to school on exam day because he was playing with his friend Mackson; the story of Dalibhunga, “he who promotes dialogue,” who courageously faced his initiation ceremony, traveled far from home to study, and once dared to steal cattle from the local ruler.

The story of Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Nelson Mandela – Madiba, to his people – an uncommon child who became a great man of peace and won the Nobel Prize, becomes the stuff of fiction thanks to the compelling words of Viviana Mazza, accompanied by the always highly suggestive drawings of Paolo d’Altan.

The Characters
People were always the most important thing to Mandela, and a great many individuals joined his journey through life. Mackson, his childhood friend: they were only five when he and Rolihlahla began to serve as shepherds, and by eight they felt like they were lifelong friends; his mother, who accompanied him on his first long voyage away from his village; the ruler Jongintaba, “he who guards the mountains,” who took Mandela in after he was left orphaned by the death of his father, raising him and treating him like his own child, teaching him that a leader is like a shepherd, who must let his flock precede him; Thembi, Mandela’s first beloved son, who died too young in an automobile accident; and his wives, who were forced to learn to share Mandela with the world when he became the father of his nation.

Critical Commentary
Nelson Mandela is physically separated from us but his soul and spirit will never die. He belongs to the whole world because he is an icon of equality, freedom and love, the values we need all the time everywhere. His long, long struggle is a great demonstration of humanity. I have learned so much from Nelson Mandela and he has been my leader. He is a perpetual inspiration for me and millions of others around the world.
Malala Yousafzai
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, 2014

The pages fly by. With a style that filters out the crudeness of reality to make it accessible for even younger readers, so that they might learn this piece of history, full of determination, grace, passion, and courage.
Ornella Sgroi, La Sicilia

Viviana Mazza is a journalist with Il Corriere della Sera, where she writes for the foreign affairs bureau. In 2010 she was awarded the Premio Marco Luchetta, a journalistic prize dedicated to child victims of war. In 2013 she published Storia di Malala (The Story of Malala), which earned her the Premio Letterario Internazionale “Nino Martoglio.”

Paolo d’Altan began his career as a self-taught illustrator with advertising agencies and magazines, before turning to the world of children’s books. His artwork has been appeared in books released by many Italian and international publishers, and has won several prestigious awards, such as the Premio Cento in 2006 and the Premio Andersen in 2011.

20 January 2015

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