03 July 2009

Sweden to Zambia

On the way to Sidetrack (the little refuge in the woods), I stopped at the new library in Amery. What a great new facility. No more are the window ledges full of books. No longer are there carts full of books in the middle of aisles.

There's plenty of new space. There are tables and comfy chairs and a fireplace. There are even empty shelves waiting for new books. Hooray for the Amery library.

As I was scanning the shelves, I saw, in the mystery section, a Henning Mankell book. Slightly curious and very skeptical, I picked it up. The description inside the front cover said, "Interweaving past and present, Sweden and Zambia, The Eye of the Leopard draws on bestselling author Henning Mankill's deep understanding of the two worlds he calls home: Sweden... and Africa..."

"Well," I said to myself, "it's not set in Sweden. Maybe the dispeptic Swede won't be so pessimistic if he's writing a story about a Swede in Africa."


I should have read the first couple sentences. "He wakes in the African night, convinced that his body has split in two. Cracked open, as if his guts had exploded, with the blood running down his face and chest."

His main character doesn't know what to do with his life. As a child, he'd had a realization that he was an individual and that his life was separate from everyone else's. He ends up in law school, but decides he doesn't want to be a lawyer.

He goes to Zambia because a woman who had befriended him as a motherless child wanted to go there. He stays in Zambia because he's asked and he doesn't know what else to do. He stays for 20 years even though he doesn't like what he's doing and he's scared most of the time and he doesn't understand Africa or Africans.

It's not a mystery in the conventional sense.

About half way through the book, I decided it's the Swedish/Zambian version of Camus' The Stranger. I skimmed most of the rest of the book. On page 246 (out of 315), Mankell writes (in the voice of his main character), "From my upbringing I received neither self-knowledge nor a sense of purpose... Now I try to move through hostile terrain without surrendering to confusion."

That's how I got through most of the book: without "a sense of purpose" and "without surrenduring to confusion." I still can't really answer the question of why I sort of read the whole thing. Maybe I kept hoping for some kind of redemption for the character or the author.

No such luck.

Why would Mankell choose to live in Zambia? Why would he choose to live in Sweden? Why does he choose to live? I guess he either gets by without "a sense of purpose" or he's not writing about himself at all.

So it goes.

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