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Nelson Mandela's handwritten memoirs were smuggled off South Africa's Robben Island to become an international bestseller after his release from 27 years in apartheid jail.
Mandela turns 94 on Wednesday, but he is unlikely to attend a host of celebrations as he is frail and has increasingly vanished from the public eye.
This year the revered statesman, who has been hospitalized twice in as many years, will be at his rural childhood home in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape province, where he has moved "for good" from the city.
His manuscript's risky passage is just one of the extraordinary journeys of the island's books and the lengths taken to obtain, protect and share them in cells where learning and reading were celebrated.
"We weren't allowed any reading material and I applied for permission to go to the library. They refused and eventually they agreed for me to have one book," recalled Sonny Venkatrathnam, who was jailed in the 1970s.
"It's a problem to have one book and the only thing I could think of that would keep me going was Shakespeare, Complete Works so I got that."
The book was confiscated within weeks.
But a quick-thinking Venkatrathnam managed to get it back after convincing a warder it was "the Bible by William Shakespeare", and needed for church. He disguised it as a religious text with pictures of gods from Diwali cards.
"My parents sent me greeting cards with Indian religious pictures on them so we cut them up and pasted (them) on the spine and on the outside. So that's how it survived. I still have it like that," the 78-year-old said.
The Shakespeare book will go on display at the British Museum on July 19, decades after it was passed from cell to cell with signatures dotting the texts that resonated most, such as Mandela's sign-off next to Julius Caesar.