Henning Mankell dreams of Africa

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By Carmen Comment

The Swedish writer (and son-in-law to Ingmar Bergman) is primarily known for his series of mystery novels featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander. But his newest book — in English, as it was first published in Sweden in 1995 — is based in Africa, and while a crime novel, has additional themes it wants to delve into, as Mankell tells the New York Times’ Alan Cowell:

True, the book, “Chronicler of the Winds,” revolves around a body, but the corpse is that of an African street boy, one of the continent’s abandoned souls, and the story is set in a war-riven land recognizable as Mozambique, a country with which Mr. Mankell has been closely associated for decades. The book has been described in The Observer of London as Mr. Mankell’s “first noncrime novel” published in English.

The manner is of a fable — though Mr. Mankell, in an interview, took issue with the label “magical realism” — crisscrossing time and space in a story that is at once wrenchingly tragic and uplifting. The story of Nelio, the street boy, Mr. Mankell said, illustrates “the enormous power you can find in people, the enormous power they have to survive.”

Mankell’s Africa preoccupation began several decades ago after travelling to Zambia and Mozambique, and has formed the basis for several works of fiction and non-fiction. Ultimately, he went to Africa “to have a perspective on the world outside European egocentricity,” he said. “That’s the reason I still go there.”