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Italian Shoes Paperback – October 19, 2010
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Mankell continues to write literary fiction in addition to his popular crime series starring Swedish policeman Kurt Wallander. This time he tells the story of a lonely old man living alone on an isolated island. Why is former surgeon Fredrik Welin hiding on his grandparents’ island? Can anything break him loose from his self-imposed exile? These two questions guide this short, beautiful, and ultimately life-affirming novel, as first one woman and then another enter Fredrik’s island prison. It starts with Harriet, the girlfriend he abandoned more than 30 years before, who suddenly appears on the frozen bay clinging to a walker. Mankell’s Kurt Wallander readers will appreciate his use of the themes of decay and danger in modern Swedish society, here represented by the dying island communities and the algae-clogged Baltic Sea. This complex novel also addresses themes of redemption and self-understanding, similar to Mankell’s Eye of the Leopard (2008) and Kennedy’s Brain (2007). The premise and tone also suggest Norwegian author Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses (2007). Mankell’s increasing popularity makes this a good choice for all public libraries. --Jessica Moyer --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“Beautiful.”—The Boston Globe
"A voyage into the soul of a man."--The Guardian, London
“A fine meditation on love and loss.”--Sunday Telegraph, London
“Intense and precisely detailed. . . . A hopeful account of a man released from self-imposed withdrawal.”—The Independent, London
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Top customer reviews
Fredrik is the narrator of this book, and as he tells his story, we learn about his early years, his parents, his education, his profession, and the woman he left behind. That woman, Harriet shows up on his island with her walker on a very cold day after being ferried by the mailman, Jannsson. As the narration goes on, we learn of the isolation of this man his entire life, and finally his wakeful period, and what pushed him to wake up.
A wonderfully written and narrated story of a man finding his way in the latter years of his life. This is a book like old wine that grows with you as the story unfolds. No big mystery as his Wallender novels, but a well told story of a man and his life. I had read Mankell's last book, 'After The Fire' before moving to this book. Both are superb, but his last book would have been more meaningful to me if I had read 'Italian Shoes ' first. I will miss Henning Mankell's writings.
Recommended. prisrob 09-19-17
I would call it a "man-story"- the proto-man from Mars. It's a story about a man with such arrested development that his EQ is negative.
"You've never been a good person", she said. "You've always shrugged off your responsibilities". Fredrik Welin is a 66 year old former surgeon, now living almost as a hermit in a house inherited from his grandparents on a remote island. He is as emotionally remote as he is physically. He couldn't express his feelings even if he had any. He's created a routine of blithe diary entries, minimal care for an old dog and cat sprinkled with empty, superficial chatter with the mail man. It's a path of least resistance for a man who doesn't make choices or decisions but rather apathetically floats into a rudderless existence; aloof, spare, empty, unchallenged, detached and spiritless.
Then one day his past comes back with a visitor at his doorstep. He's reminded of prior misdeeds. He's not a criminal per se but a man that just didn't care and if that's had consequences than it's for others not Fredrik. All his success at suppressing his thoughts and compartmentalizing events, now fails him. He is slowly, agonizingly, coming to terms with the cost of missed opportunities. He is gripped with regret and knows his simplistic routines have ended but what comes next may not be up to him.
"I didn't want to be the man that had to jump down into freezing cold water everyday, in order to confirm he was still alive" Fredrik thought. Repeatedly he acknowledges the pain and regret of the dead soul he's created inside himself.
Fredrik's humanity will only return through an ugly and circuitous path. His past means dealing with people, taking an interest in others and expressing real empathy. With so many bad habits built up over the years it's not clear that he's going to succeed. I found myself easily turning the pages and wanting to know where this was going. Mankell's writing is spare but so spot on. I underlined no less that 15 phrases that struck me as so clear that I wanted to go back and re-read them.
The story has characters that are chillingly real to me. Fredrik's self imposed exile is so much more emotional than physical. Anyone can shut down while still going through the motions of a work and life. Fredrik's circumstances in that sense are no different or less likely than anyone else. Mankell could have chosen easier endings on at least two occasions and chose not to bringing some honesty to the ultimate conclusion.
I am not sure if it will have the same impact on other readers. For me it was a beautiful story, wonderfully told with a potent reminder that your life choices are your own.
It was rather easy to identify with the central character's slow and painful return from self-imposed, self-pitying Baltic Sea exile. The redeeming is powered by a string of ongoing encounters with women he has wronged and others who have been wounded by life. The story's message of possible redemption and rebirth to useful and meaningful living as an older man (woman) is appealing and also something that one wants to relate to.
This a wonderful book that one reviewer correctly described as a kind of delicious vintage wine to be savored slowly. Mankell is truly one of the best writers of fiction currently at work in any language. Highly recommended.
An unexpected change of events, which is not very typical of an excellent crime writer, and the author's understanding of one ageing person's feelings make this book a high quality reading for people who can live the life of the main hero for quite a while and sympathise with him.
A very good book like all the rest of this author.