Monday, January 11, 2010
The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell
Mankell is a master, and those readers who like his writing will see his control and skill amply displayed here. A very grisly murder in northern Sweden has a host of richly drawn characters that we'd like to know better. But to propel the mystery, Mankell introduces far-ranging motives. It could be an interesting prod to inventiveness in a writing class: include China in your next writing assignment. This mystery becomes a little unwieldy and farfetched when it goes back over several continents and several generations in Part 2, but Mankell comes back in Part 3 to something much more interesting: a discussion of the economic and political changes taking place in a rapidly modernizing China, and in a slowly deteriorating Africa. Especially interesting are ruminations on China in Africa. If readers remember the author John le Carre's last couple of books set in Africa, The Mission Song and The Constant Gardner, this a polemic similar, but comes off a little better.
Anyway, this is some comfort reading for those who are going to read Mankell regardless. Scandanavia still seems cold and remote, Beijing fast and flashy, Africa hot and beautiful.