Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mankel's Mozambique the Swedish Crime Writer Leaves Wallander at Home for a Foray into Africa That 'Packs a Wallop'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mankel's Mozambique the Swedish Crime Writer Leaves Wallander at Home for a Foray into Africa That 'Packs a Wallop'

Article excerpt

"A TREACHEROUS PARADISE"

By Henning Mankell

Knopf ($26.95)

Henning Mankell is known for proclaiming his stance of "one foot in the snow and one in the sand," referring to his homeland Sweden and part-time home, Mozambique.

His new stand-alone novel (not part of his popular Wallander detective series) straddles the gap between the countries. For this work, Mr. Mankell has ventured out of the Swedish crime fiction world, as he has done periodically in the past.

The story is woven from a tidbit of information passed to Mr. Mankell in casual conversation regarding a Swedish woman who, at the beginning of the 20th-century, owned one of the largest brothels in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Little else is known about this woman, whose existence was discovered via tax rolls in colonial archives.

The woman's name appeared as a significant taxpayer for several years, and then disappeared from the records without explanation. "A Treacherous Paradise" is Mr. Mankell's fleshing out of the bones of this discovery.

Hanna Renstrom leaves her childhood home in the remote frozen north of Sweden under the care of Jonathan Forsman, a wealthy ship owner, who, at her mother's request, takes Hanna to relatives in the coastal city of Sundsvall.

When the relatives can't be found, Hanna is installed as a servant in Forsman's home, then as a cook aboard one of his ships heading around Africa for Australia. Via marriages and loss, Hanna becomes a brothel owner in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).

In Sweden, as a poor worker in Forsman's house, Hanna had been treated with condescension and occasional contempt. But in Africa, due to the color of her skin, she is now the social equivalent of Forsman -- a change in status that gives her pause.

At first, she finds herself on that slippery slope replete with historical examples of one group of people who declare another to be inferior to justify inhumane treatment. But she grows to reject the life of other "inactive, apathetic, and constantly fanning" white women in the town.

She begins to make nonconformist decisions in order to deal with her uneasiness regarding treatment of the African people. …

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