A Treacherous Paradise sees Henning Mankell turn his talents for writing gripping thrillers to a world where power and powerlessness meet and passion is a dangerous commodity.
Hanna Lundmark escapes the brutal poverty of rural Sweden for a job as a cook onboard a steamship headed for Australia. Jumping ship at the African port of Lourenço Marques, Hanna decides to begin her life afresh.
Stumbling across what she believes to be a down-at-heel hotel, Hanna becomes embroiled in a sequence of events that lead to her inheriting the most successful brothel in town. Uncomfortable with the attitudes of the white settlers, Hanna is determined to befriend the prostitutes working for her, and change life in the town for the better, but the distrust between blacks and whites, and the shadow of colonialism, lead to tragedy and murder.
Africa features prominently in the work of Mankell (The Shadow Girls), both in his acclaimed Wallander mysteries and his many stand-alone books, including this fine historical set in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) in the early 20th century. Having no prospects, Hanna Lundmark (n e Renstr m) is sent away to find work as a cook on a ship sailing for Australia, where she falls for an officer who dies on the voyage. Once docked in Louren o Marques, the young widow finds her way to a hotel/brothel owned by Senhor Vaz, whose proposal of marriage Hannah accepts. When he too dies, Hannah inherits his brothel and tries to make sense of her life and the world. Like many Mankell novels, the plot seems strange, even incredible, in summary form, but his gift lies in the creation of a sequence of events that is credible and illuminating. The proverbial stranger in a strange land, Hanna is the lens that exposes the ugly realities of racism, sexism, and colonialism easy targets, obviously, but this book is very much of a piece with Mankell s nongenre, and more polemical, works. Hanna is a curious mix of helplessness and fortitude, and her story, like the story of Africa itself, is tragically sad.