Diagnosed with the cancer that would take his life in 2015, the creator of the Kurt Wallander mysteries (An Event in Autumn, 2014, etc.) casts an impassioned eye on life and death.
Readers looking for either a narrative autobiography or a memoir of the Swedish novelist’s last illness will need to adjust their expectations. What Mankell offers instead is a commonplace book in which memories of things he’s seen or felt over the past 60 years inspire fiercely philosophical ruminations. Mankell retrospectively decides to date the onset of his fatal illness, which he likens to a pit of quicksand, to a car crash he walked away from a week before he first noticed the pain in his neck that sent him to the doctor. He likens cancer therapists to the fraudulent psychic Uri Geller. He recalls examples of appalling cruelty he saw in Budapest and Maputo. He speculates about the biological foundations for the different reasons men and women get jealous, and he confesses how troubled he is “that I shall be dead for so long.” Although Mankell’s reflections are deeply personal, readers will learn little about the details of his life because he remains resolutely extroverted, a keen observer of the world whose illness encourages him to take the long view. He describes the future ice ages climate scientists have predicted for 10,000 years, 20,000 years, and 60,000 years from now and repeatedly returns to the dim prospects for the Earth and its people, who have come to depend on the integrity of systems to dispose of nuclear waste that is expected to remain dangerously radioactive for 1,000 centuries.
“I have written about crime because it illustrates more clearly than anything else the contrasts that form the basis of human life,” writes Mankell. After digesting these piercing intimations of mortality, readers will suspect that some subjects illustrate those contrasts even more clearly.