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Book 34 Completed

June 9, 2010

I liked Henning Mankell’s Eye of the Leopard. His writing style is really fluid; his language very rich — I thought he had an ear for good dialogue, and his Hans Olofson character intrigued me. However, for the record, it is billed as a “white-knuckle page-turner” and, um, no. I’d say the “beautiful and heartbreaking” blurb got it more right.

The biggest thing I liked about this book is very personal to me…so, take this next part with a grain of salt, but…I thought that Mankell captured perfectly the feeling of being an outsider and an outcast, a member of society on the periphery, of a country that you love, but can never understand. And this, on a very simplistic level, is how I feel about Japan. So, even though Hans is struggling through identity issues in Zambia, there are whole passages about being an outsider that could really be about anywhere.

There is a passage that reads: “He notices two white people climbing into a carriage behind the locomotive. As if all white people were his friends in this black world, he hurries after them and almost falls on his face.” I have described this exact same sensation after living in a sea of faces that don’t look like me — often my best friends Sarah and Marisa and I would notice a white person on a train and say to ourselves, “Do we know them? We must know them.” As if all white people in Japan were connected purely by skin color — not in friendship, but in solidarity.

And that is at the heart of this book. Which made it relatable and interesting to me. But, of course, a government in unrest in a politically chaotic African country is not familiar to me…and I was completely engrossed in the aspect of this book that took a magnifying lens to the corruption in Zambia. (Note: I know NOTHING about Zambia’s current political climate…but this book takes place during a 20 year span during the 60s-80s.) There were just small tidbits throughout that Mankell learned from his own time in Africa that I wanted to know more about: Aid never finding its way to those who needed it (the government SELLING to the rich the vaccines and medicines donated by other countries), the murders of white land owners, the corrupt policemen.

Here is my reservation about this book: I am not 100% sure that I understood the intricacies of the plot. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty confident that I am missing something. And I’m going to attribute that to my extreme busyness; I’m trying to read pages at a time while cooking dinner, giving Elliott a bath, running at the gym, teaching, getting my oil changed (NOT a good place to read…they ask you a MILLION questions), and driving. Yes, driving.

I REALLY wish I would have known about this book when we were suggesting book club books, because I’d love my darling girls to answer some questions for me. They are so insightful and pick up on awesome connections. Anyway, if someone else has read this and can help me: My confusion is primarily about the past — the episodes of the book that take place in Sweden.

I would have enjoyed the book more if I didn’t get to page 186 and say to myself (out loud), “Is there a plot yet?” And I’m sure there was. I’m sure it was subtle and fantastic. It just felt meandering for some parts. Good thing I liked the ruminations, otherwise this book would have been a monumental failure. Yes, yes, someone is going to say to me at some point that this is supposed to be a character driven coming-of-age story and the plot is secondary.  But I like a good plot driven novel every once in a while — even though those books are less likely to win fancy awards.

That’s okay. I’m mixing it up on this journey. Madagascar, where we’re heading next, is a total PLOT book. It’s also a book that you’d see an eighty year-old man reading in an airport. I’m not sure if the grandpa demographic is appealing to my readership here…

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