A Treacherous Paradise

For Hanna Lundmark, born in the forests of nineteenth century Sweden and abandoned in the Portugese owned colonial town of Lourenco Marques, what could be more alien than to wake up bleeding, in a hotel with a chimp named Carlos who wears a white waiter's coat and serves tea?  After the bare, bone chilling temperatures of her native Sweden, the African heat is overwhelming, blinding, suffocating. The bright colors are intimidatingly lush and foreign. And all the Africans! Is it true that they can't be trusted? That you have to lie to them and keep them from knowing too much or they will take advantage of white people?

Hannah feels uncomfortable and strange but when she slaps the black woman who saved her life and unjustly accuses her of lying, Hannah knows that she is no better than the powerful white Portuguese colonists who live there. Without  quite knowing how or why, Hannah realizes that something inside her is paralyzed, without words to make sense of what she feels and sees. It is then that she picks up an blank book discarded by her husband and begins to record everything that happens to her and to those around her.

Asked about the incredible detail of the book, author Henning Mankell says he found out about some remarkable tax records in the colonial archives of Maputo, capitol of Mozambique. At the end of the nineteenth century they show that a Swedish woman owned the biggest business in town - which was then called Lourenco Marques. After a few years she is no longer mentioned - she came from nowhere and vanished mysteriously. Who was she? What happened to her? Where did she go? Mankell couldn't quit thinking about her. So "based on what little we know and all that we don't know"  he imagined  a captivating story of prejudice and transformation that begins in the bleak forests of  Sweden and ends in the sun soaked continent of Africa. Read Henning Mankell's A Treacherous Paradise and you won't be able to quit thinking about her either.

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