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
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.