The Mandela Plot

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 May 2018

Member Reviews

A special thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Set in 1980s South Africa, The Mandela Plot centres around Martin Helger—a student at an all-boys private school in Johannesburg that doesn't quite fit in unlike his brother who is a mysterious legend.  Martin is bored with his mundane life until a beautiful American girl, Annie Goldberg, arrives.  Martin finds himself no longer in his protective bubble and is immersed into the political and societal struggles.  

Oh boy..where do I start?  I had the honour of reviewing Bonert's first book The Lion Seeker and it was a stunning debut.  But this sophomore effort coming of age tale just simply didn't resonate with me.  Honestly, I can't put my finger on it—perhaps it was the dialogue?  It was very hard for me to get into the book with several failed attempts and start overs.  That being said, once I did get into the story, I did enjoy parts of it.  The characters are complex, some are well-developed, and others, like Martin are underdeveloped.  Bonert clearly has a gift; there are some beautiful passages, but the lengthy paragraphs are unnecessary bulk and the slang stunts the reader (of note: there is a glossary at the end of the book).
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This political thriller and fiction tale take place in and around Johannesburg, South Africa during apartheid and focuses on the supporters of the cause. The story spans from the uprising up to the release of Nelson Mandela and sometime after. The main players are the Helgers, a second generation Jewish family, young Martin is the key player in this heartbreaking and tragic account.

In the 1980’s, the regime is on the verge of collapse and the population suffers a maelstrom of violence during that horrifying time. Although fictional the author’s words have made this story sound so real with his incredible passages. When Martin is thrust in the heart of the struggle by a manipulative American and comes out of his bubble to help the cause we see a tad of what may have occurred during that time. Mercy is in short supply and no one is safe…..black, white, Afrikaans, Europeans, foreign nationals, immigrants ….. This novel, a moving coming-of- age tale honestly explored the bold themes of identity as well as terrorism and revolution and is said through an unforgettable journey.

The characters are well developed and believable some are even quite sympathetic and others so evil it is hard to believe their actions. This is a very hard book to get into. The narration and dialogue are peppered with some South African dialects, some slang, some Yiddish a challenging mix if not familiar with the languages. Although the author has given us a glossary at the end of the books I found it was very distracting and I needed to pause too often and reread the sentences in order to understand the meaning. The long paragraph sometime over a page long and its stretched narrative also made reading a daunting task at times. ….Of course what I think doesn’t remove the feeling of authenticity this story projects. 

I may not have enjoyed this novel at its fullest nevertheless I must say “The Mandela Plot” is a good read to be enjoyed by historical buff….
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