From the Publisher
“Historical touches mingle with elements of magic realism to convey themes dear to the author’s heart.” —Los Angeles Times
“An engrossing story, with a real sense of pace and adventure, illuminated by empathy with the bewilderment and longing of a clever, lonely child.” —The Independent (London)
“A quiet tragedy.” —The Boston Globe
“Mankell’s fierce instinct for social criticism is admirable.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A writer with the imagination, brains, resources . . . [who] make[s] thoughtful, challenging, exciting, artistic novels.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Mankell is expert at depicting brutal scenes. He’s also adept at getting inside exotic heads like Daniel’s; this book’s greatest strength is imagination. Its second greatest is empathy.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Earnest and heartbreaking. . . . Mankell fully understands Daniel's radically different cultural perspective and indelibly captures the boy's longing to return to his homeland and the tragic consequences of his forced exile.” —Publishers Weekly
“A haunting and fascinating story of clashes of culture and race in the nineteenth century as well as a touching, sometimes cruel examination of familial and other human ties.” —Booklist
David Anthony Durham
…don't read Daniel for the plot. This is not one of Mankell's popular Wallander mysteries. Read it instead for his ruminations on a cultural divide that Bengler and Daniel cannot cross. Even the supporting characters are trapped by the legacy of race, power and exploitation upon which colonialism was founded. The plucky female journalist who befriends Daniel, the pastor who dreams of missionary work in Africa, the kind husband and wife who attempt to understand the boy, even the king of Sweden in his pleasure yacht: All of them try to help, but most of them end up as unwitting participants in a deepening tragedy. This is, after all, a Swedish novel.
The Washington Post
Set in the 1870s, this earnest and heartbreaking story opens with the unsolved murder of a mentally retarded Swedish girl, but this isn't a mystery in the mode of Mankell's international bestselling Kurt Wallander novels (Firewall, etc.). Hans Bengler, a Swedish entomologist, travels across southern Africa in search of undiscovered insects. In the desert, he finds an orphaned native boy, whom he adopts on impulse and calls Daniel. Bengler brings Daniel back to Sweden to exhibit him for money. A link eventually emerges between the girl's murder and Daniel's story, which dramatically illuminates the evils of colonialism (Bengler notes that he "had to make the important decisions for these black people") and the cultural chasm between Europeans and Africans. Mankell fully understands Daniel's radically different cultural perspective and indelibly captures the boy's longing to return to his homeland and the tragic consequences of his forced exile. (Nov.)
Although it opens with the discovery of a corpse, this newly translated stand-alone work by the author of the Kurt Wallander mysteries is a mournful historical novel, not a detective story. In the late 1870s, amateur Swedish entomologist Hans Bengler journeys to the Kalahari Desert to discover an insect he can name after himself. Instead, he encounters an African boy whose family has been massacred. Bengler impetuously adopts the child, whom he calls Daniel, and the two sail to Sweden, where the book shifts primarily to Daniel's perspective. As Bengler exhibits him to ogling whites in cramped lecture halls, Daniel desperately yearns for the desert, a longing sharpened by dreamtime visions of his dead parents. Mired in loneliness, he conceives a fateful plan to learn to walk on water so that he can traverse the seas and return to Africa. VERDICT Glum by even Scandinavian standards, Mankell's narrative radiates a haunting intensity despite measured pacing. The dearth of suspense likely will disappoint Wallander fans; this is strictly for readers unafraid of bleak literary fiction and those who enjoy Mankell's other fiction (e.g., The Man from Beijing).—Annabelle Mortensen, Skokie P.L., IL
A haunting novel by the Swedish mystery master, one that proceeds from the indelible to the inscrutable.
Well before Stieg Larsson became a (posthumous) international sensation with his Millennium Trilogy, his countryman Mankell had already sold millions of books in a series featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander (The Dogs of Riga,2003, etc.). Yet he has also written many other novels, with this one differing significantly from his more popular genre work. Published in its first English translation this year, the 2000 novel takes place in the 1870s, when an aimless former medical student named Hans Bengler travels to the African desert in order to discover an insect that he can name after himself. "Whether all this has been a flight from the thoroughly meaningless life of a student or not, it has certainly been a flight from myself," ponders the displaced Bengler of his existential plight. He begins to consider himself a man without a name, on a journey that can't be mapped, without destination. He stumbles upon some semblance of meaning or purpose in the form of a young African orphan, whom he adopts and names Daniel (after considering a number of other names from the Bible). Where the African chapters evoke Joseph Conrad'sHeart of Darkness,the metaphysics seem more like Ingmar Bergman's after Bengler brings Daniel to Scandinavia, teaching him how to be "human" and intending to exhibit him along with the exotic insects he has collected. The novel initially seems much more effective in getting inside Bengler's head than Daniel's, as the latter appears awfully precocious for a boy who turns out to be only nine or ten. The prologue introduces the novel with a mystery—the corpse of a sexually molested girl found in southern Sweden—but by the end the mystery has deepened rather than resolved itself. Ultimately, Daniel finds a soul mate, but loses himself more completely than his "Father" has.
An ambitious, flawed but compelling addition to the Mankell canon.