Contemplating Biography and Memoir

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Contemplating Biography and Memoir
I received a copy of Young Mandela by David James Smith by virtue of my relationship with This is in no way intended to be a review of the book.

Having immense respect for the work and life of Nelson Mandela, I was excited about getting this book. While I knew some basic facts about Mandela’s life, they weren’t numerous. My response to this book, however, surprised me.

There are memoirs. There are autobiographies. There are biographies. And there are smear-ographies---my new word. Young Mandela purports to be a biography. As does Kitty Kelley’s biography of Oprah. But all of these genres beg the question, “What is truth?” “What is fact?”

As I have been engulfed in the writing of my own memoir these past two years, I have been forced to ask these same questions of myself. For me the answers are clear. My memoir is my own truth and no one else’s, not even my siblings. No two siblings experience their family in the same way. Sometimes even the so-called facts are in dispute.

My siblings have not been happy with me for writing about our life together. They have asked to have pseudonyms. I wish I had thought of that years ago if it proves to be a sure fire escape from the family dysfunction. I doubt that it will be, but I’ve agreed to provide each of the living sibs with a fake name anyway.

I don’t know how well David James Smith has done with this biography of Mandela. The facts are confusing, conflicting and make for a difficult read. I do know this for sure---no one can accurately write another’s Truth. Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.  

updated: 6 years ago