Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell

Better known for his atmospheric mystery novels featuring Detective Inspector Wallander, Henning Mankell has also written several novels about Africa. It was during a sojourn in Mozamibique, that Mankell discovered a curious fact: that during the early 1900s, a Swedish woman was briefly the owner of a prosperous brothel in Maputo, but no one knew where she came from or what happened to her afterwards.

Out of this bit of history grew Mankell’s novel about Hanna Renstrom, a poor girl from a remote part of Sweden, sent to the city to make her own way in life. She becomes a cook on board a steamship and marries the third mate, who unfortunately dies of fever off the coast of Africa. Hanna can’t face the idea of staying on board so escapes one night while the ship is in port.

Grieving and ill, Hanna finds herself cared for at what looks like a hotel, but which turns out to be a brothel owned by the volatile Senor Vas. While she regains her strength and wonders what she will do next, Hanna has the chance to observe the cruel treatment of the local African people in the hands of their white masters. How she becomes a brothel owner and suddenly extremely well-to-do makes for an absorbing story, peopled with fascinating characters.

A Treacherous Paradise gives immense insight into the awkward relationships between the natives and colonisers. The book’s early chilly Nordic setting makes the steamy African heat all the more vivid. This is a beautifully crafted novel with an elegant translation that does the writer justice.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: A treacherous paradise 

Find out more: Author's website

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