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The Shadow Girls: A Novel Hardcover – October 16, 2012
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The issue of who is visible versus needing to hide in the shadows is an important theme throughout the book. Mankell tells it straight, in the young women's heart-rending stories--but he also underlines the absurd aspects of their situations as immigrants (e.g., immigrants destroying their passports and official papers before entering Sweden to increase their chances of staying) by putting them and Jesper into many, many absurd situations (e.g., hiding out in the chief of police's house, stealing phones in the police station, having their writing class in a boxing club where Jesper gets punched). Mankell clearly can write more than crime fiction (which he estimates as only about 25% of his output); the success of his Wallander novels have allowed him the freedom to experiment with other sorts of books, such as this absurdist social commentary--a book in which, ironically, the protagonist is directed to write a crime novel and finds that several other characters, including his elderly mother, are doing so.
I find this effort impressive although I can't say this is one of my favorite Mankell novels. Mid-life crises are hard to read, and this book kind of just ends without bringing even Jesper's situation to resolution. If you need an easier transition from Kurt Wallander, try these other excellent crime novels/mysteries: Kennedy's Brain, Return of the Dancing Master, The Man from Beijing. Then move farther afield with the touching Italian Shoes and the disturbing story of Daniel. Several of these use Mankell's first-hand knowledge of Africa or deal with immigration or outsider issues. Although he makes fun of those who write crime novels, Mankell himself clearly is a serious author with important purposes in each of his works.
Along the way, the author shines a light on the background of the girls and the ways they are forced to live - in the shadows.
This editiion of "The Shadow Girls" is published by "The New Press" which promotes issues for a more equitable world. Mankell is one of the contributers to this not-for-profit collaboration. "Shadow Girls" brings to light the issue of the tragedies caused by forced pogroms that continue to operate in the 21st century.
Many refugees from Bangladesh, China, Kurdistan, Iran, Ghana, Togo and other third-world places are captured by human traffickers and dumped in camps that they probably won't survive. Those few who escape head for Northern European countries, hoping somehow to quietly integrate. Often they have lost all family and must be physically and mentally strong to make their way alone. Mankell uses this background to show how brave and clever those who survive are.
One of the African refugees who escapes from a Spanish prison camp makes her way to Sweden--a young girl with a big smile that she uses to soften the myriad of obstacles that stand in her way. She adopts the unfortunate name "Tea Bag" from looking at teacup one of her captors has in his office.
When she encounters one of the least likely persons in Sweden to get to know or help her, a self-centered, mediocre, henpecked writer wrapped up in ambition, the story becomes humorous, filled with intrigue, softening the sadness. Hennings best writing comes when he is relating the incredible, heartrending stories of the Shadow Girls.