Wednesday, December 9, 2009
A Swede in Zambia
Title: The Eye of the Leopard
By: Henning Mankell
Henning Mankell, the creator of Kurt Wallander mysteries, does not restrict himself just to the boundaries of Sweden, his native country. By working as director at Teatro Avenida in Maputo, Mozambique since 1985, he has truly made Africa his second home. The Eye of the Leopard has shown us a glimpse of his quarter century of experience outside Sweden. To flee from a series of personal tragedies, and to escape "an inheritance of the smell of elkhound, of winter nights and an unwavering sense of not being needed (p. 46)," Hans Olofson, the protagonist, landed in Zambia in 1969 and started his pursuit of an unfulfilled missionary dream by one of his two dearest friends. Little did he know that his short visit would last 18 years and he would settle down to become a chicken farmer, or mzungu, the local term for a wealthy white man.
Achieving such societal status does not come without paying a high price. Throughout those 18 years, Hans fought long and hard against malaria, social unrest and corruption. But it was the dark force of the underground movement, wearing leopard skins to kill the first two friends he made in Africa, which finally shook the foundation of his new life and confidence. After dark, he had to vary his bedrooms, and arm himself with a shotgun, pistol and German shepherds. To make up for his sleep deprivation, he had to go to the Hotel Edinburgh in Kitwe. The final straw was that one of the assassins making attempts on his life turned out to be his young black journalist friend, Peter Motombwane, one the brightest and most promising people Zambia can offer. After failing to transform his farm into the political model of his dream, and coming to the painful realization that a white man could never help Africans develop their country from a superior position, Hans sold his chicken farm and left Africa, with the hope that "From below, from inside, one can surely contribute to expertise and new working patterns (p. 187)." Aside from the sociopolitical awareness, characteristic of Mankell's novels, the book explores another eternal theme. It is the relationship between Hans and his woodcutter father Eric, a strong reminder of Kurt Wallander's troubled relationship with his own artist father, who, painting with the unchanging landscape with or without a grouse, never approved of his son's decision to join the police force.
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