Sylvère Mbondobari's analysis of the mythological structures that inform the discourse on Albert Schweitzer in different societies over the course of several decades is based on in-depth research and presents a vast array of sources, including articles published in newspapers and journals that reflect the popular image of Schweitzer. The book consists of three parts. The first section explains how Schweitzer's writings, in particular his self-fashioning in major texts, laid the foundation for the myth that emerged over time. Schweitzer impersonated the humanitarianism and philanthropy he promoted and stylized himself as a holy figure. Whereas Mbondobari succeeds in revealing what seems contradictory in Schweitzer's thought (e.g., Schweitzer was critical of some and supportive of other tenets of colonialism), the analysis omits key passages that demonstrate how Schweitzer was in fact integral to the colonial system.
The second part contrasts the reception of Schweitzer in Germany, France, and Africa. In Germany he played a pivotal function, particularly in the postwar period, and became a vehicle for Germans to articulate their need for a new ethics after the horror of the national Socialist period. In France, on the other hand, Schweitzer was and continues to be received with ambivalence. Schweitzer was from Alsace, born a German citizen, arrested as an enemy in Gabon during World War I, received his French citizenship as a result of the Versailles Treaty, and wrote most of his texts in German. He was also a Protestant and passionate Christian, which made him less interesting to Catholic and secular French alike. Additionally, Schweitzer's critical views of France did not further his reception in the country. Clearly, those French who were critical of the doctor opposed him not for the role he played in Africa, but rather for domestic reasons. Mbondobari then presents the postcolonial African and African American critique of Schweitzer provided both in newspapers and in fiction. This critique focused on Schweitzer's paternalism, his refusal to train African nurses and doctors, and the essentially colonial situation at the hospital in Lambarene. Mbondobari also includes an informative discussion of the largely defensive European reaction to the African and, in one case, British debunking of Schweitzer.
The last section presents fictional reworkings of Schweitzer's life and legacy and investigates German and French novels written for youth and children. Mbondobari's analysis reveals recurring patterns regarding the image of Schweitzer as a model humanitarian and philanthropist. One of the strongest aspects of the study is the discussion of two postcolonial African novels, namely, Sylvain Bemba's Rêves portatifs (1979) and Seraphin Ndaot's Le procès d'un Prix Nobel (1983). Each text features a fictional character resembling Schweitzer who is cast in highly critical terms. As Mbondobari shows convincingly, the writers' indictment of the paternalism, Eurocentrism, and colonialist thinking present in the thought and work of Schweitzer serves as a corrective to the mythologizing of Schweitzer in Europe and North America. The concluding section could have been expanded into a more substantial summary, especially with regard to those ideological elements of the mythologizing discourse on Schweitzer that continue to determine the structures of Europe and North America's relationship with Africa. The appendix includes thirteen photographs and other images and three documents discussed in the study. All in all, the book amounts to [End Page 163] a substantial contribution to the discussion of ideology's role in determining Europe and North America's relationship with Africa.