It is very difficult to disassociate oneself from how one feels about a certain writer and his or her works and look at a new title, without any judgment. I was going through this predicament when I started reading Henning Mankell’s latest book, “The Shadow Girls”. This book by Mankell is unlike his crime novels featuring Wallander, which I have read in the past. This came as a surprise to me as it was a non-crime fiction novel. Having said that, I must also say that I did not expect anything out of it and was pleasantly surprised
“The Shadow Girls” as the title suggests is about girls and three girls at that who are at the center of the book. The book gives Sweden a new perspective, other than the crime angle that has been covered till now in literature. “The Shadow Girls” is about three girls from around the world and their encounter with a poet, each facing different challenges in their lives.
Tea-Bag, a young African girl, has come to Sweden fleeing a refugee camp in Spain, wanting a better life. Tania has escaped from the horrors of human trafficking. Leyla has come with her family from Iran. At the heart of them is a celebrated poet, Jesper Humlin, who is harrowed by his mother and girlfriend, whose publisher is not by his side and luck essentially is not in his favour. A chance meeting with Tea-Bag changes his life and perspective on the immigration experience in Sweden. He gets to know the girls and from there on, the book takes on a different turn.
The writing is essentially Mankell, albeit without the crime or thriller angle attached to it. There is wit in this book to Humlin’s parts which is refreshing. The book is different and therefore the quintessential Mankell fan may not be able to relate to it. However, if the reader carries on in the first couple of pages, then the read is definitely worth it. I liked the read. It was not a drag, and neither was it too fast. The pace was just right. The characters were well-etched and the immigration experience resonated with me, maybe because of my grandparents’ experience of moving home to a new nation. I liked the book to a great extent and it was a pleasant read. A very different read from the regular Mankells.