The Swedish writer Hennning Mankell (1948 – 2015) has left an extensive oeuvre. One ofg his most characters he created was Inspector Kurt Wallander who managed to solve many riddles connected with crimes in Sweden. Mankell not only wrote about Sweden, but he wrote as well about what he encountered in several African countries. He spent many years in Mozambique, where he ran a theater. he did not shy away from political statements in his work and in his life. Those political views were found on the left side of the political spectrum.
One of his books with an African connection is this book. This book runs between Sweden and Zambia (without spending much time in mentioning this name). What happens in this book? This book follows this life of the Swede Hans Olofson, both in his younger days in a remote part part of Sweden and his later days on a chicken farm in Zambia. The story however does not unfold in a chronological order. In the way of this mix we are travelling back and forth and in this process we discover the background of events happening in Zambia.
Hans Olofson is raised by his father, for his mother left the family. Hans does not know a thing about his mother, his father refuses to talk about it. It is a general trait of his father: he does not talk very much. His work is in the woods is important to him and there in the woods he spends many hours on his own. With Sture, his boyhood friend, he gets to know Janine, a single woman who is shunned by the small community, for due to a surgical failure she has lost her nose. Janine is a member of a local evangelical church, where two elder ladies who have retired as missionaries in Zambia. At the mission post Mutshatsha they worked for many years. Janine talks about this post, as a dream she want to follow. Maybe one day she will be able to visit this remote place.
When Hans studies Law he decides to go to Mutshatsha. He chases the dream of Janine. He travels, without any preparation, to Lusaka. In the train upcountry he meets a colonial couple Werner and Ruth Masterton who invite him to stay at their farm and who help him to travel to the mission post. On his way back he stays with the Masterton’s again. There he meets Judith Fillington who also runs a farm. She needs a new farm manager, for her present one prefers to cherish his bottle. Hans decides to take the job just for a few weeks. In the end he spends 20 years at the farm, for soon after he started his job Judith decides to retire in Europe and Hans decide to take over her chicken farm, a farm with good profits, and with hundreds of local workers.
Hans Olofson is the new kid on the block with new ideas that conflict with the modus vivendi of the settler community. These farmers stick together, trust one another, try to act from the same page. Hans does not carry this burden, but will he be able to carry on with his own ideas. Not only in front of the colonial settlement, but also in front of his workforce and in front of government people? Will his ideas based on his life in Sweden stand up to the tides he encounters? Why does he trust white folks? Why does he mistrust his workers? He befriends Peter Motombwane, a journalist, with whom he has long conversations about the political situation, about the settler mindset, about the new political elite with the well organized secret services. But even he would be willing to (let) kill Hans in order to chase away the settlers.
In this way we get different (political) opinions about the situation in Zambia (and other parts in Africa), set in the life of Hans Olofson and the people he meets in Sweden and in Zambia. Henning Mankell succeeded in writing a good book, one of his many good books.
(English translation : The Eye of the Leopard, 2008)