Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell

A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell
First published in Sweden in Swedish in 2011. English language translation by Laurie Thompson published in 2013.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Looking Out To Sea

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing

How I got this book:
Swapped for in the book exchange at Camping Les Medes, L'Estartit, Spain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hanna Lundmark escapes the brutal poverty of rural Sweden for a job as a cook onboard a steamship headed for Australia. Jumping ship at the African port of Lourenço Marques, Hanna decides to begin her life afresh.

Stumbling across what she believes to be a down-at-heel hotel, Hanna becomes embroiled in a sequence of events that lead to her inheriting the most successful brothel in town. Uncomfortable with the attitudes of the white settlers, Hanna is determined to befriend the prostitutes working for her, and change life in the town for the better, but the distrust between blacks and whites, and the shadow of colonialism, lead to tragedy and murder.

Having been a tad underwhelmed by my first (and the first) Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, I have since steered clear of Henning Mankell books. However, a lack of choice at my last campsite book exchange meant that I decided to give him another try - especially when I realised that this particular story is historical fiction, not a crime novel. Inspired by a real woman about whom very little is known, Mankell has imagined the life of a young Swedish woman who becomes stranded in early 1900s Mozambique, then snappily known as Portuguese East Africa.

Apparently Mankell partly lives in Mozambique and this familiarity with the country certainly came through in his writing. He describes his locations well from the desperate poverty of rural Sweden to the long boat voyage to the dust and heat of East Africa. I liked how he attempted to portray all sides of the African racial divide. As a Swede, our heroine Hanna initially sees herself as apart from all aspects of Lourenço Marques society, but of course her white skin immediately identifies her as belonging to the European colonists rather than with the black townfolk, even though she feels a greater affinity with their predicament having come from a serf underclass herself. It's an interesting angle through which to view the culture clash, although I did think some of Hanna's thoughts and ideas were more 21st century than early 20th. In common with my previous read, The Underground Railroad, I also felt that Hanna wasn't strongly portrayed enough to maintain focus at the centre of this novel. She often behaved more in keeping with a male character than as I felt a woman would do and this jarred for me. Other than that, I enjoyed reading A Treacherous Paradise and am interested to discover more of Mankell's historical novels.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Henning Mankell / Historical fiction / Books from Sweden

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