Review: Mandela, Mobutu, and Me: A Newswoman's African Journey
By Claudia La Rocco
April 27, 2003
The New York Times
Section 7, Column 2; Book Review Desk; Page 24
Lynn Duke's four-year tenure as The Washington Post's bureau chief in Johannesburg was fast coming to a close when, in February 1999, she secured a long-coveted interview with the South African president, Nelson Mandela.
But it went badly from the start, leaving Duke unnerved by Mandela's cantankerous, dismissive tone and "the absence of magic in a moment I thought I'd hold and savor." Only afterward did she realize that Mandela's mission to rebuild his nation "was the magic, and I'd spent four years under its spell." Throughout her days as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Duke found herself similarly shaken and entranced as she confronted a continent struggling to maintain its humanity through a host of horrors, including apartheid, genocide and AIDS.
The result of this ambivalence is "Mandela, Mobuto and Me," a memoir with equal parts of lament and celebration. A reporter's log, it is also an black American woman's attempt to come to terms with herself in relation to "a vast African narrative that resonates within me like an ancestral whisper."
Duke's emotional proximity to her subject is perhaps to blame for her tendency toward overwrought prose and rather torturously mixed metaphors. But Duke's honesty about her prejudices and conceits is refreshing, and her ability to capture scenes and personalities is impressive as she moves between the desperate, violent chaos of Congo and a post-apartheid South Africa trying at once to come to terms with its past and overcome it.
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