Friday, September 18, 2009

Chronicler of the Winds

It is a long way from Ystad in southern Sweden to an unnamed coastal city in Africa, from a middle-aged detective to a 10-year-old street orphan, but it is a leap that Henning Mankell makes more adeptly than you might anticipate in (the horribly titled) Chronicler of the Winds.

Over nine nights, as the orphan Nelio slowly dies from gunshot wounds, he relates his life story to the baker José Antonio Maria Vaz and we gradually find out how his short life reached this point. The earlier years of Nelio's short life are horribly familiar from news stories and other accounts of children caught up in Africa's many conflicts, but once he makes his way to the unnamed city – which knowing Mankell's background as the director of that city's Teatro Avenida can only be Maputo in Mozambique – the story takes some interesting and intriguing turns.

The way Nelio's life is recounted in segments, while José and the rest of the city continue on with their struggle to survive, works well; providing a grounding for some of the more fantastical elements of the story. However, some of it just doesn't ring true and I couldn't understand why José would quit his job to become a (wholly ineffectual) teller of Nelio's story.

It is interesting that this book was written midway through the Wallander series (although not translated until much later) and I can only imagine what some of Kurt's devotees would make of it. Not surprisingly the publishers went for a much softer, more feminine cover design – presumably hoping to avoid getting too many complaints from the disgruntled single genre readers.

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