With “Kill Mandela,” John Mountford offers a spectacular debut novel, the first in “The Mandela Trilogy.” The novel chronicles both a dark and a promising time in South Africa’s history, when apartheid was coming to an end and Nelson Mandela’s days of imprisonment were likewise concluding. However, “Kill Mandela” travels far beyond the political struggle, encompassing the lives of black and white South Africans and their concomitant exertions. Mountford breathes incredible life and identity into both sides of the struggle, from Civil Cooperation Bureau members to those of the African National Congress, brilliantly portraying the thoughts and motivations of each and how their fight for dominance spilled over into the lives of their families and communities. Members of the black, white, and colored race are represented, and the main characters range from teenagers to adults.
“Kill Mandela” opens on two white South African men of relative privilege who have led very different lives. Jan Kruger suffered a brutal loss as a young man, one that transformed him and ignited a need for revenge, while Jack Jarrard immigrated to South Africa to seek a purpose greater than himself. When they find themselves sharing company, they begin a dangerous dance that can only have one victor. Meanwhile, teenager York Jarrard begins to discover the world that lies beyond his own white neighborhood as he dabbles in love and strikes up an unlikely friendship. However, all are being drawn inexorably together in a stunning showdown that will determine the course of the country.
Mountford has done a phenomenal job with this remarkable first novel. He seamlessly blends politics, history, and human relations to create a startling and beautiful thriller. The result is an eye-opening account of a crucial period in not only South Africa but the world as well. His characters are well-drawn and genuine, with raw emotions and both strengths and frailties. “Kill Mandela” is engaging and thought-provoking, arousing the reader’s emotions while also informing. Aimed at more experienced readers, this novel could be read by mature young adults; it does contain some language and violent situations, as well as hints of sexuality, but these are all contextual and reasonable. With the necessary background information and historical references interwoven into the thread of the narrative, Mountford’s pragmatic approach makes “Kill Mandela” accessible to those who are from or have some knowledge of South Africa as well as those (such as myself) who do not. Being that “Kill Mandela” is the beginning of a trilogy, the novel has some conclusion but certainly leaves the door open for speculation and for the sequel. The coincidental timing with Nelson Mandela’s passing makes this novel a sterling testament to one of the most important figures of the twentieth century and his enduring legacy.