From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Best known for his Kurt Wallander mysteries (Firewall
, etc.), Mankell alternates between the coming-of-age story of Hans Olofson, a provincial Swede who grows up in a motherless home with an alcoholic father, and Olofson's later experiences in Zambia in this fine, unsentimental exploration of vastly different cultures. Having come to believe that Sweden holds nothing for him, Olofson decides to go to Africa to visit a mission, prompted by the strangest woman in town, Janine, who's shunned because of an operation that left her with no nose. Olofson stays in Zambia for 18 years, running a struggling egg farm and dealing with a culture he never fully understands. Mankell is terrific at sketching the cultural differences between the West and Africa—in particular, the anguish of the independent states. Sweden and the West may be more pragmatic and less superstitious than Africa, but greed and corruption are universal. Still, it's the character of Olofson and his complex, unsettling relationship with the Zambians and Africa that make this disquieting novel so compelling. (May)
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*Starred Review* American readers only familiar with Mankell’s Kurt Wallander crime novels are in for a delightful surprise. In The Eye of the Leopard, he creates a beautiful, heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful coming-of-age novel set both in Sweden and Zambia. The story of Hans Olafsson opens with him suffering through a bout of malaria, convinced he is about to be attacked. This tense opener is followed by a series of flashbacks to Hans’ lonely childhood in the forests of northern Sweden as well as his eventual arrival in Africa. Mankell’s signature ability to evoke a sense of place is evident in this early work, published in Sweden in 1990, as he takes us from the cold and claustrophobia of a tiny cabin in Sweden to the heat, dust, and violence of postcolonial Africa, each setting brought to life with an immediacy that leaves the reader alternately frozen and overheated—and altogether unable to break away from this engrossing and tense tale. Much of the drama here comes from Hans’ Zambia years, from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, when his stature as a mzungu, or rich man, forced him to come to terms with being a white man in a hostile black country. A powerful exploration of the stresses and challenges of freedom. --Jessica Moyer
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