SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

The Man Who Smiled, by Henning Mankell

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The Man Who Smiled, by Henning Mankell (Publisher: The New Press, Sept. 19, 2006)

They say that Henning Mankell has a fan base that is as crazy about him and his books as, let’s say, a stadium full of pre-teens are about Justin Bieber, except that the Mankell phenomenon has been going since the 1990s, and does not seem to be letting up. Arguably Mankell’s greatest creation is the Columbo-like detective Kurt Wallander, whose personal life is a fiasco, who always gets his man, and who lives in Ystad, Sweden (where Wallander fans go on pilgrimage). Mankell is something of an aging groovie, having been a left-wing political activist and pacifist in his youth, and he has a bit of a fixation on the unspoiled beauty and innocence of Africa (as only someone who grew up far removed from the continent can have.) His novels all share the same theme: “What’s wrong with the Sweden of today?” Mankell’s answer is just about everything, from the weather to the politics and society, and the weird murderers in between. Nevertheless, Wallander and his murky thoughts in the murky weather grow on you and are severely habit-forming.

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