A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell – review

The Wallander author returns with a historical novel based on the true story of a brothel-owning Swedish woman in old Mozambique

Henning "Wallander" Mankell takes a fascinating historical fragment as the basis for this tale of Portuguese Africa. In the early 20th century, one of the biggest brothels in Lourenço Marques (now Mozambique's capital, Maputo) was owned by a white Swedish woman.

She crops up in tax records, but we know nothing else about her. Mankell names her Hanna and gives her a thoughtful nature (she "radiates an aura suggesting she is a totally genuine human being") and a harsh backstory: she grew up in Sweden's remote north, was pushed out by her poor family and ended up on a boat to Australia but never got there. The most successful parts of the novel portray the brutal, segregated life of Lourenço Marques – the black population lower their gaze to whites who may beat them for a slight, while the whites fear that outward pliability hides defiance. Hanna's decency is undermined by the society she finds herself in; when she embarks on a personal crusade, the town closes ranks. Mankell's writing can be drab but he tells a good story, and this is a grimly believable picture of how colonialism denigrates both servant and master.

• To order A Treacherous Paradise for £7.19 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardianbookshop.co.uk.

Contributor

James Smart

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell – review
Cheerful satire mixes with harrowing detail in Mankell's tale of a misanthropic author, writes James Smart

James Smart

27, Sep, 2013 @4:59 PM

The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell | Book review
Without Wallander to rein him in, Henning Mankell is in danger of losing his touch, says Carmen Callil

Carmen Callil

27, Feb, 2010 @12:05 AM

Article image
After the Fire by Henning Mankell review – Wallander author’s final novel
The elegiac final novel from the late author of the Wallander series, one of Scandinavia’s finest writers, weighs up life and death

Ian Rankin

13, Oct, 2017 @6:28 AM

Article image
My hero: Henning Mankell by Ian Rankin
The Swedish crime writer was a complex figure who lived an extraordinary life. His novels featuring detective Kurt Wallander critiqued politics and big business and explored the human condition

Ian Rankin

10, Oct, 2015 @10:00 AM

Article image
The Troubled Man: A Kurt Wallander Mystery by Henning Mankell – review
Henning Mankell's lament for Sweden's most celebrated detective

Andrew Brown

26, Mar, 2011 @12:05 AM

Article image
A life in writing: Henning Mankell
A life in writing: Nicholas Wroe talks to Henning Mankell

Nicholas Wroe

20, Feb, 2010 @12:06 AM

Article image
Henning Mankell obituary
Swedish crime writer best known for his Kurt Wallander books who was a dedicated political activist

Andrew Brown

05, Oct, 2015 @11:37 AM

Article image
Quicksand by Henning Mankell review – uplifting, serious reflections on what it means to be human
Those of us lucky enough not to be fighting simply to exist have a responsibility to change the world, argues the late crime novelist in this moving collection of his final thoughts and personal stories

John Burnside

11, Feb, 2016 @11:00 AM

Henning Mankell

Faro Island, The Baltic

15, Aug, 2004 @12:10 AM

Article image
The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell | Book review

East meets west in Henning Mankell's corpse-strewn latest, writes Andrew Brown

Andrew Brown

07, Feb, 2010 @12:05 AM