Mankell departs from his distinguished Kurt Wallander crime series (Before the Frost, 2005, etc.) for the strange, sad tale of an African country boy who suffers too much and dies too young.
His name is Nelio, and bandits have wiped out his family and village with acts of inhuman cruelty. He can save his life, he’s told, if he kills his cousin, a playmate. Instead, he turns the pistol on his grinning captor, then runs. After interludes with a choleric albino dwarf and an ancient woman he first mistakes for a lizard, Nelio arrives in the city, friendless and frightened. But he’s a resourceful child. Before long, he prevails upon a street gang to accept and protect him (not easy); eventually, he becomes its leader. He also finds a home, a snuggery inside the hollow belly of a giant equestrian statue. Nelio is remarkable in every sense, declares narrator José Antonio Maria Vaz, the eponymous Chronicler of the Winds: Though only ten, he has “the experience and wisdom of someone who had lived to be a hundred.” José happens on Nelio, bleeding badly after being accidentally shot, takes the boy to the roof of his bakery and nurses his charge diligently, though both of them understand that the wounds are fatal. For nine nights, the Sheherazade-like Nelio tells the baker about his life in the streets, what he’s done, what he’s endured, what he’s learned. By the end, the enraptured José is imbued with a sense of mission, as if the child had known all along that the man was born to be his disciple.
Only for those who can believe in a wise, courageous, sensitive, ten-year-old visionary. Skeptics can bypass.