Readers met Sofia previously in Secrets in the Fire, when, at the age of 9, she lost her legs in a land mine explosion.
Now Sofia is almost 20 and pregnant with her third child. Armando, the father of her children, travels to the city to work, coming home on weekends. One Saturday Armando is very late, and as he stands in the shadows beyond the firelight, Sofia knows he is hiding something from her. She makes her way to town to find out what he is doing
and is devastated to discover that he is involved with another woman. Sofia ends their relationship, but suffers terribly in the face of Armando’s rage. In a heart-rending conclusion Armando’s life unravels, and Sofia must return to her village to raise her children without him.
Shadow of the Leopard is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, told with clear-eyed compassion and humane and strongly atmospheric insight.
Henning Mankell was born in 1948 and is one of Sweden's most popular authors. His Kurt Wallander detective series has sold millions of copies. He spends half of his time in Mozambique, where he knows the real Sofia who inspired this novel.
Date of Birth:
February 3, 1948
Place of Birth:
Folkskolan Elementary Shool, Sveg; Högre Allmäna Läroverket, Borås
Read an Excerpt
Sofia is running. It is dark. She must hurry and she's very frightened. She doesn't know why she runs, or to where, or why she's afraid. Something terrifying is after her, something dangerous and evil. It is catching up to her. Sofia runs on through the night, alone and very scared...
SOFIA KEPT HER EYES CLOSED as she remembered. This nightmare had haunted her for ten years, ever since a terrible landmine explosion had killed her sister Maria and injured Sofia. Sofia's legs had been torn off and her body had been badly burned.
Then Sofia shook herself and opened her eyes. She threw a few more branches on the fire. All that had happened ten years ago. She was almost twenty now.
It was late, but she was still outside, sitting on a straw mat by the fire. Most evenings she would have been asleep already. Tonight she couldn't sleep. Behind her, inside the small mud-brick house, the rest of her family slept. She could hear Mama Lydia's heavy snoring. Now and then one of the sleeping children whimpered.
Sofia's dog, Lokko, was lying opposite her, on the other side of the fire. His head was resting on his paws, but whenever Sofia moved, or an insect fluttered too close to his nose, Lokko looked up and caught her eye.
Sofia sometimes felt that meeting the dog's gaze was as strange as staring straight into the fire, where the flames danced and the burning wood crackled, throwing sparks into the night air. Lokko's eyes were like mouths of caves where unknown things were hiding in the shadows.
Images danced in the flames...
All around her the village slept. She heard a child cry in the dark distance. She listened. The child sounded sick, feverish.
The sound hurt her deeply. She had two small children of her own and feared the crying that might be a warning of illness to come. You could never know. She had seen too many children die of fever, or diarrhea, or malaria. Because everyone in her village was poor, nobody was sure that there would be a doctor to help them, or enough money to pay for medicines.
The sad child was silent now. Using one of her crutches, Sofia moved a few logs into the fire. Lokko watched her.
"Isn't it pretty?" she whispered. "Look, the flames are jumping and dancing. I was just the same once ... I could dance, too."
Lokko's large eyes were fixed on her.
"I wonder what you're thinking," Sofia said. "If only you could talk to me and tell me what goes on inside your head."
Sofia put the crutch down, leaned back against the wooden stool she used as a backrest, and listened to the silence, wondering what it might mean not to be a child any longer. I'm a grown-up now, all of a sudden.
Then she let her thoughts wander back in time, along a well-traveled path in her mind, which grew longer for every day she lived. Perhaps one day it would be too long, and she too old and too tired to follow it to the end.
It took her, as always, to Maria and Rosa, her two dead sisters who were waiting for her at different places along the path. She'd met her father, Hapakatanda, as well. He had died when she was too young to remember much of him.
Suddenly, it seemed as if she were no longer alone. Others were sitting by the fire, shadowy figures who had gathered near her. All were children, all girls, but of different ages. And all were Sofia's younger selves! She could reach out her hand and say hello to herself as a half-grown girl or a toddler, almost too little to walk on her own.
What was her very first true memory? Probably the time when her Mama had brought her along to the river. Sofia had been playing on the bank while Ma Lydia and the other women were doing the laundry. They were up to their knees in the water, bending over to scrub the clothes. Sofia knew that there were dangerous animals in the river. Crocodiles might come sneaking along, with only their eyes showing above the surface, and strike in an instant. Their huge jaws could grab people and drag them under. Lydia and the other women were always on the alert. The crocodiles were cunning and you never knew when they were around.
Suddenly a croc had broken cover, its sharp teeth glittering in its enormous, wide-open mouth. Its jaws snapped shut around the arm of one of the women. Before anyone could react, she was pulled underwater. She had come back up just once. Sofia could still remember the sound of her scream. Then she vanished. No one ever found any trace of her.
My life's first memory, Sofia thought. Seeing someone get attacked by a wild animal and die. It frightened her. A mosquito landed on her arm and Sofia slapped it before it had time to start sucking her blood.
OTHER REMEMBERED IMAGES CAME TO MIND and faded again. Maria was part of almost every one of them. Even though they were poor, and Ma Lydia sometimes wept because she couldn't feed her children, Sofia felt that a special light shone over her childhood.
Until that awful morning that changed her entire life.
Sofia truly didn't want to think about what had happened, but couldn't stop herself.
It was early in the morning and the sun had just risen above the horizon. They were running along the path. Every morning, Ma Lydia would warn them to stick to the paths and never step onto land where no one walked. Bad things lurked there, small earth crocodiles that could open their jaws and tear arms and legs off little children.
At first, both girls were running, but then Sofia started jumping on one leg. Maria stopped. Sofia jumped on her left foot and had to put her right foot down to get back on the path.
She remembered nothing else, only a searing pain and a vast, black silence.
IN THE HOSPITAL, their beds had been placed side by side. Both of them had been very badly hurt. One night, Maria reached for Sofia's hand, held it, and said, "I'll go home now." Her eyes closed. In that moment, Sofia knew that Maria had died.
Sofia's eyes filled with tears. She could see Maria standing on the path, Maria in her white dress, laughing. The huge difference between life and death could sometimes seem so small.
She wiped the tears from her eyes. If Maria had lived, she would have been almost twenty-one and perhaps a mother, too. Sofia tried to visualize her sister as a grownup, but it was impossible. She could imagine Maria with the round hips and breasts of a woman, but her face was that of a laughing child. However many years passed, Maria would always stay a child.
Sofia shaded her eyes from the dazzling firelight to look at the starry night sky. Her father had told them that people who died turned into stars. She thought it hard to believe, though the idea that Maria was glittering up there was beautiful.
Lokko got up, scratched himself, and disappeared into the darkness. Sofia sipped cold tea from a plastic mug and listened for sounds from the house. Ma Lydia sometimes snored so loudly you could hear her through the walls, but not just now. Lydia slept on a straw mat on the floor with one thin, small pillow under her head. Sofia kept asking her if they should buy her a bed, but Lydia said no every time. She had always slept on the floor.
Was Lydia getting old? Lydia herself didn't know how old she was. There was no record. Lydia's mother, who had given birth eleven times, couldn't remember. Her father thought her birthday was in the autumn, one year when the rains had been very heavy. Sofia guessed that her Ma was about forty-five years old, though so tired and worn she looked older.
Had the deaths aged her? Lydia had lost four of her seven children: Maria, her older daughter Rosa, and two little sons, one from malaria and another from a stomach illness.
Lydia had wept despairingly over her children and the tears had worn deep furrows in her face. Grief had entered her body and turned into pain in her joints, in her arms and legs. No wonder her face and body had aged.
Shadow of the Leopard 3 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
The story is very well written, but what a downer! I would not recommend it for young adults. I was impressed with the writing, but disappointed with the subjet matter. I usually enjoy Henning Mankell but this story left me with a bad taste.
More than 1 year ago
Although this book was not part of the mystery series I'm used to, it was very well written and thought provoking. I disagree with the recommended reader age (young adult) in that the themes are quite violent at times however, I suppose today's culture is just that.
Henning's exploration of racism of European whites in Africa and the protagonists growth through his observations were excellent.