80 Famous People – Albert Schweitzer


Albert Schweitzer is yet another of the historical figures that wasn’t taught in my school when I was a kid. Actually, it’s amazing just what was taught compared to what I’m learning about now with the Famous People series. But, that’s a joke that has been told many times already. Anyway, Asahi Shimbun is now into the second set of its Famous People mooks. The first collection ran 50 books, and the sequel is planned to go for another 30. Schweitzer is #54. The price is still 490 yen ($6 USD), for the 36-page weekly release.


(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Schweitzer was something of a renaissance man. Having been born in 1875 in the German half of Alsace-Lorraine to a Lutheran pastor, Albert not only grew up speaking French and German, but also playing the church organ. In 1899, he became a deacon, and in 1900 he was ordained as a curate. At age 30, he wanted to be sent to Africa as a French missionary, but his training as a Lutheran put him at odds with the missionary society. So, he resigned his post and took a 3-year university program towards a Doctorate of Medicine. He performed musical concerts throughout Europe as well as other activities to fund his mission to build a hospital near Lambarene, in what is now Gabon, starting in 1913. Along with his medical duties (treating diseases and injuries) he helped put up the hospital buildings himself, along with the local villagers. He’d gotten married to Helene shortly before graduating from medical school, and she trained as a nurse and anaesthetist to help support him in Africa. In 1914, WW I broke out, and the French government put them under supervision while still allowing them to keep treating their patients. In 1917, Schweitzer was suffering from exhaustion and he and his wife were shipped back to France before being sent to Alsace a year later. He returned to Gabon several times later on, restoring the hospital buildings and establishing a self-sustaining hospital system. He published a number of books over his lifetime, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. He died in 1965.

The intro manga has Yoichi, Mami and Mohea giving presents to Yoichi’s and Mami’s mother – Mao Makiba – for her birthday. Merrino, hoping to get a kiss out of the deal, stages an elaborate dinner and piano concert for Mao, but is unmasked as a fraud when the group discovers his butler, Angora, playing the actual music backstage. Angora tries giving Mao a bunch of strawberries, but she starts sneezing. As Angora runs a series of tests to discover what she’s allergic to, Studybell begins the lesson on Schweitzer. In the wrap-up, Angora reappears without his butler jacket, and is completely barrel chested with 6-pack abs. Turns out that Mao is allergic to goat’s wool, so he shaved himself. Merrino goes ballistic on discovering that instead of being the one getting the kiss, it’s his butler that Mao seems attracted to. (Note, there is a Mr. Makiba, so the odds are that Mao is going to keep the relationship strictly platonic.)

(Helene learns that the mission they’ll be staying at has a pest problem.)

In the main manga, Albert is 38, and he and Helene are traveling down the river in 1913 when they get to an existing mission. There’s no real buildings, but there are patients, so he and his wife put down stakes in Lambarene and work on treating malaria, sleeping sickness and the odd cuts and broken bones. They’re in the French Congo, but most of the villagers speak neither French nor German, which leads Albert to enlist a local boy, Johan, into acting as interpreter for him. There’s a flashback to when he told the French missionary society that he was quitting the church to study medicine, and the director demanded to know why he wanted to give up a cushy position and a successful career as a musician to go to Africa. Albert’s reply was simply that this was his way of repaying his debts to Jesus for having a good life. Back in the present, villagers are traveling up to 200 miles just to be treated at the hospital, and since they don’t have money, their payments are in the form of fresh fruits, fish and assistance in putting up the buildings. When Albert isn’t performing medicine, he’s either replying to mail sent from around the world, writing, playing the piano or pounding nails into the buildings. Eventually, the main buildings are completed, but WW I starts, and the French military arrive. Since, Germany and France are on opposite sides, and Schweitzer was born in the German part of Alsace, he’s effectively put under house arrest. Naturally, Johan and the villagers demand to know the meaning of this, but no one is able to change the situation.

Albert and his wife get sent back to France, and after a year, they’re allowed to return to Alsace. He goes on a series of lecture tours, and writes various books about his experiences in Africa, and his philosophy of being an activist philosopher-scientist. At age 49, he goes back to Gabon with an assistant, while Helene remains in Europe due to health problems and to having had a child. The old hospital is now in ruins, so Schweitzer announces that he’ll just start over again. Johan discovers him at the hospital and they’re reunited. During this second run, the hospital not only treats villagers but also injured animals and birds. At age 77, he receives the Nobel Prize, and at age 90, he passes away and is buried in Gabon; the remains of his wife are sent to Africa to be buried next to him.

The textbook section is pretty straightforward this time, detailing his upbringing, his disagreement with the Church as to what Christ was trying to teach, his success as a musician and his training as a cleric and medical doctor. There are multiple photos of Albert, his patients and his wife. And sidebars on life in Africa. The last two pages focus more on modern day Africa, and some of the problems there regarding a lack of water, famine and disease.

In the first mook series, the last page of each book was a punched sheet of 9 trading cards with pictures of various well-known people world-wide. In the new series, instead of the TCG cards, there’s now two postcards with manga-style drawings of the main character. For mook #54, one postcard shows a young Schweitzer playing the organ, and the second is a reprint of the cover illustration. The guest for this issue is manga artist and illustrator Akemi Inokawa. There’s no wiki entry for her in either English or Japanese. Her primary manga are Music Box Doll (orugouru doru) and Migiwa – Scenes of Nirvana (True Horror Stories) (Migiwa – Higan no Joukei (honto ni atta kowai hanashi)). Her work on Schweitzer is less cartoony than her regular manga, but the characters still don’t really look like their photos. She does a good job on the background, jungle and buildings, though.

This mook is recommended for anyone interested in Albert Schweitzer, or who may be inclined to try to follow in his footsteps.

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