DANIEL by Henning Mankell

Book Quote:

“I’m a little boy, he thought. I have travelled much too far away. My parents and the other people I lived with are dead. And yet they live. They are still closer to me than the man called Father and the woman who doesn’t dare come close enough for me to grab her. My journey has been much too long. I am in a desert I do not recognize, and the sounds that surround me are foreign.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (DEC 15, 2010)

Sometimes we open a book and become totally immersed. We are enthralled. That’s how I felt while reading Daniel by Henning Mankell. Traditionally known for his Swedish mysteries in the Wallander series, Mankell travels far afield from his usual writing in Daniel. Here we are given the treasures of writing that examine the internal, the stuff of the heart and mind. It is a small book in size but it is huge in scope and packs a big wallop.

In the Kalahari Desert in 1878 live a group of Bushmen known as the San people. They are being raped and pillaged by the Colonialists who murder every one they can. When 9 year-old Molo’s family is killed, he is in hiding and manages to escape the rampage. He is eventually caught, however, by a Swedish man named Anderssen who puts him in a small cage and pulls him to the nearest settlement. There he is seen by Hans Bengler, a Swedish wannabe scientist, who trades something for him. Hans calls Molo “Daniel” and requires that Daniel call him “father.” Neither knows the other’s language. Daniel pines for his parents, Be and Kiko.

Bengler has traveled to Africa to collect insects and with the goal of finding an insect never catalogued before.  After he finds a beetle that he thinks has never been seen in Europe, he returns to his home in Sweden and brings Daniel with him. Daniel keeps trying to escape in order to get back to his home in the sand so Bengler resorts to tying him up at night.

The first part of the story is in the form of a long letter written by Bengler to a prostitute he used to visit regularly in Sweden. He tells Matilda of his adventures, of finding the beetle and finding Daniel. Bengler teaches Daniel to speak some Swedish and how to open and close doors with the appropriate etiquette. He also teaches him to bow and to say “My name is Daniel and I believe in God.” Naturally Daniel is not aware of what his words mean but he is supposed to say them to everyone he is introduced to. Bengler has some plans for Daniel but he has little money and all the plans fall through, including showing Daniel off in a circus.

Most Swedes in the nineteenth century have never seen a black boy before and Daniel is a new sight for them. Along with Bengler, Daniel goes through one sad set of affairs after another. Not knowing the culture, Daniel doesn’t know the basic things such as how to eat, where to urinate, how to dress. He’s never worn shoes before and hates the feel of them on his feet. He begins to pick up the language but attempts to remain mute. He listens and observes, trying not to speak.

The second part of the book is told from Daniel’s perspective. His culture becomes known to the reader as Daniel dreams about his parents and they give him advice and are with him emotionally. Daniel wants to join them again and to do this he thinks he must learn to walk on water so that he can return to Africa. He practices walking on water but can not master the task. He even asks a minister how Jesus managed to walk on water and is met with anger. Daniel finally realizes that he will never master this task and his heart sinks. He must find another way to return to his land.

During the course of Daniel’s struggles to return home, he is witness to atrocities committed by Bengler, sent to live with another family and has his life turned upside down multiple times. What keeps him sane are the memories of his family and their visits to him in his thoughts and dreams. He especially wants to return home to the sand so that he can finish a drawing of an antelope that has religious and mystical meaning for him. Daniel meets a young woman who is emotionally disturbed and the two of them decide to try and travel to Africa together.

Daniel of the Old Testament was a prophet, a captive, and received an education. In a metaphorical sense, Mankell’s Daniel meets these criteria. However, he never accepts his “new” home and does not advance in society as the biblical Daniel does. Mankell’s Daniel, even at the young age of 9 years old, is a person of deep roots and memory. He knows where his home is and where his bearings are.

This is a deep book, a book of journeys and pitfalls, but Daniel never gives up. No matter what he must face, he knows where he needs to go and what he must do to find himself and his home. Mankell, who lives part-time in Sweden and part-time in Mozambique, has created a small masterpiece and has shown his ability to change genres and create something new and wonderful. (Translated by Stephen T. Murray.)

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-9from 13 readers
PUBLISHER: New Press, The (November 9, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Henning Mankell
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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December 15, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Africa, Class - Race - Gender, Facing History, Sweden, Translated, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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