This wonderful book describes Mandela's methodical, improbable and brilliant campaign to reconcile resentful blacks and fearful whites around a sporting event, a game of rugby…the premise that a single rugby game, even a championship game, could heal three centuries of racial division, dispelling accumulated terrors and hatreds in a magic Mandela moment, is romantic overstatement. South Africa is still a generation or two from racial reconciliation. But Carlin summons many witnesses, from ardent liberation firebrands to white racist bitter-enders, who testify that the 1995 championship match was a profoundly formative moment in the young country's move away from the threat of civil war. By the time Carlin is finished, you'll be inclined to grant him his poetic license.
The New York Times
Playing the Enemy is a classic sports-brings-the-community-together story…There is no need to milk the story for false sentiment: A climax with 62,000 fans, mostly white Afrikaners, rooting for an underdog, integrated home team doesn't need melodrama…Carlin has no illusions about the power of sport to eradicate centuries of racism, but he makes a good case that the tournament was, to paraphrase Churchill, the end of the beginning of a new South Africa.
The Washington Post
Carlin offers the final dramatic chapters of how then president Nelson Mandela and his wily strategy of using a sporting event-the Sprinkboks rugby team in the 1995 World Cup-to mend South Africa. Carlin, a senior international writer for El País, quotes Mandela: "Sports has the power to change the world.... It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers." After giving an informed capsule history of apartheida's bitter legacy and Mandelaa's noble stature as a leader, the scene is set for the influential rugby match between the solid New Zealand team and the scrappy South African squad in the finals of the World Cup, with 43 million blacks and whites awaiting the outcome. All of the cast in Afrikaner lore are here-Botha, DeKlerk, Bernard, Viljeon-as they match wits with Mandela. Carlin concludes this excellent book of redemption and forgiveness with chapters that depict how a divided country can be elevated beyond hate and malice to pride and healing. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Carlin (senior international writer, El Pais; White Angels: Beckham, the Real Madrid and the New Football) provides an intriguing and readable addition to the small shelf of books (e.g., David Black and John Nauright's Rugby and the South African Nation) on the role of rugby in unifying post-apartheid South Africa and on how sports and politics can be meaningfully intertwined. Although Carlin focuses on Nelson Mandela's use of the 1995 World Cup rugby championship, which had been uniquely scheduled to take place entirely in South African stadiums, he provides many engrossing anecdotes that illuminate the troubled political atmosphere in South Africa at the time. Carlin depicts Mandela's evolving attitude toward rugby, from his contempt for a sport that represented white South African domination (specifically as represented by the national team, the Springboks), to his consideration of the sport as a tool for unity, to his becoming an actual rugby fan. Nestled within Carlin's stories are valuable insights into the political genius of Mandela both generally and specifically in his role in converging sport, culture, and politics. Carlin's own recent interviews, with Mandela, the rugby players, and various politicians, serve as strong primary-source material. Endnotes and a bibliography would have made the book more suitable for an academic audience. Recommended for high school and public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/08.]
The Independent's former South Africa bureau chief chronicles the 1995 Rugby World Cup victory that united a divided country. Carlin (White Angels, 2004, etc.) presents a revealing and entertaining insider's view of the improbable events leading to South Africa's upset triumph over New Zealand, which many believe instantly secured a peaceful future for the then-unsettled nation. The Springboks, as South Africa's team was called, may have secured the World Cup trophy, but the real hero of this stirring tale is recently elected President Nelson Mandela, who adopted the mostly Afrikaner players as his own and somehow got the predominantly black population behind them. Carlin shows that Mandela's genius for swaying hearts and minds was nothing new. Jailed since 1964 by the country's apartheid government, the African National Congress leader systematically won over his enemies, from a cruel prison warden to President P.W. Botha. By the time he was released in 1990, Mandela was a celebrated world figure and a hero to many at home. But even after his inauguration in May 1994, South Africa remained on the verge of civil war. The new president was smart enough to realize that his best chance of calming the white minority's anger and fear was by getting a united South Africa behind the celebrated Springboks, who'd been banned from the first two Rugby World Cups, in 1987 and '91, as part of an international anti-apartheid boycott. Carlin follows the events leading up to the 1995 World Cup with a knowing eye for both history and the sport of rugby. But most memorable of all is his portrait of Mandela: an inherently simple man (he rises at 4:30 a.m. every day to a breakfast of papaya, kiwi,mango, porridge and coffee) with a knack for the perfect political gesture, and the courage and conviction to pull it off. A rousing, highly readable piece of history. Agent: Anne Edelstein/Anne Edelstein Literary Agency