Daniel by Henning Mankell

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Daniel by Henning Mankell

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A haunting, chilling account of one boy's childhood. A Swedish entomologist encounters an orphaned boy on his African travels and decides to bring him up as his adopted son.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099481430

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I haven't read any of the Wallander Mysteries nor seen them on television, so I start this book with an open mind and equally open expectations. On the back cover The Times say that this book is A sombre, gripping story about alienation and the clash of cultures.

A young Hans Bengler has decided to leave his homeland of Sweden and make an expedition across the inhospitable Kalahari Desert. Brave - or extremely foolish. I'm sticking with the latter. My reasons are that Bengler is portrayed by Mankell as a rather dull, insular and unimaginative young man. He doesn't really get along with his family (such as they are) nor does he seem to have many friends. It's also plain that he's desperate to leave his cold Sweden for warmer climes. But at what cost?

Translated from the Swedish, Mankell has a straightforward narrative voice which, along with the subject matter makes for a rather poignant (even bleak) read. The central character Bengler has taken a keen and professional interest in creepy-crawlies. He wants to find new species and make a name for himself, hopefully becoming famous at the same time. He has chosen a difficult task. We follow him over thousands of miles on his arduous journey. He would always remember the arrival in Cape Town as an extended and surreal dream. We follow him over land, over sea, until he reaches the desert. He travels on the last leg of his journey with oxen and their handlers. All find the terrain difficult, including the animals. The sluggish oxen moved very slowly.

Mankell gives his readers a sense of the wide, open spaces. The searing heat of the day, the chilly nights, the eeriness of it all. On the whole Bengler seems to be made of sterner stuff even although he encounters problems en route. He nevertheless makes progress. But it's the sheer loneliness that gets to him. The language barrier between him and the surly oxen handlers means he has no one to talk to, to share this experience with. It's almost driving him mad. But he has a saving grace: he's able to pen some of his thoughts to a girlfriend back home. He has serious doubts about it all but still plods on to his eventual aim. Then ... he comes across a young, local boy, all alone - and Bengler's life changes forever. And so does that of the young boy.

We don't meet Daniel until 50+ pages into the story. But it's enough to tell me that, in my opinion, Bengler would make a rubbish parent. The boy does not speak (we're told the reasons for this later in the novel) and even if he did, it would be in his own native language. But nothing deters the rather stubborn Bengler from his new and exciting project - to return to Sweden with his new 'son'.

The rest of the book concentrates on the relationship between the two. Father and son. As you can imagine, it is fraught with problems. Mankell gives us plenty of sad, poignant episodes in Daniel's new life in Sweden. To say that he was like a fish out of water is putting it mildly. His skin is black, for starters. He gets stared at in the street by the locals wherever he goes. He's like an animal on show in some cage. It's a sorry tale of square pegs and round holes. I found this book to be fascinating on the one hand and a rather grim read on the other.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Depths also by Henning Mankell.

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Buy Daniel by Henning Mankell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Daniel by Henning Mankell at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Daniel by Henning Mankell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Daniel by Henning Mankell at Amazon.com.


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