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The Shadow Girls

3.30  ·  Rating details ·  2,271 ratings  ·  351 reviews
Jesper Humlin is a poet of middling acclaim who is saddled by his underwhelming book sales, an exasperated girlfriend, a demanding mother, and a rapidly fading tan. His boy-wonder stockbroker has squandered Humlin’s investments, and his editor, who says he must write a crime novel to survive, begins to pitch and promote the nonexistent book despite Humlin’s emphatic refusa ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by The New Press (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.30  · 
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 ·  2,271 ratings  ·  351 reviews

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Amy Warrick

Mr. Mankell, what did you WANT? Did you want to write something satirical about the growth in the crime book industry? (Because if you did, you kind of got close, and what you did write is pretty funny at times.) Did you want to write a moving portrait of the plight of Sweden's illegal immigrants? (Because if you did, a non-fiction book might have been more effective. Read 'Beyond the Beautiful Forevers' for an example of how to write about desperate peeps without becoming maudlin or clinical.
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful book this is! Another classic Mankell which I hope will be read and loved by many more people.

On several occasions I was laughing out loud while reading it during my holiday in Madeira, as well as on the plane - I got a few curious glances from people but I did not care! There was so much humour, whether intended or not, that I just burst out laughing!

I also cried, on a couple of occasions, especially at the very end. A very touching story about immigrants - it inevitably remin
May 29, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mankell
Not the usual Mankell fare and a story about Sweden’s hidden illegal immigrants. Jesper Humlin is a mediocre narcissistic poet. His life is centered around him. His long suffering girlfriend Andrea wants a baby and delivers him several ultimatums of baby or she is gone. His publisher wants him to write a crime novel. Then he meets three immigrant girls. Teabag from Nigeria. Tanya from Estonia. Leyla from Iran.

The girls each tell him their harrowing stories and Jesper changes his attitude. His e
Jan 02, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: european-authors
The book opens with a young Nigerian woman who has survived a shipwreck and is herded into a refugee camp. Out of desperation to escape, she (unsuccessfully) impersonates a Kurd and gives herself the English name, "Tea-Bag" after spotting the tin sitting on the official's desk. I loved her confidence and gutsiness despite her circumstances.

It goes downhill from there.

Cut scene to Jesper Humlin - a poet returning from his vacation research trip and is back in Sweden to enjoy reality and deal wit
Sep 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Mankell's social conscience at work here. A strange but interesting book about a pretentious, pompous Swedish poet and three immigrant women who rock his world. Jesper Humlin is the poet and he's a vain jerk and a racist in denial. He writes books no one buys or understands, is consumed about his tan, and fears his lover and mother will write books and get more fame than him. His publisher is even more of a jerk. There are many humorous and exasperating exchanges between them over his next liter ...more
Bonnie McCune
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Mankell is often categorized as a crime writer, but this novel, although it contains some undocumented, and thus illegal, visitors in Sweden, is primarily about the human condition. Protagonist Jesper Humlin is writer of poetry, and poets communicate, right? Wrong. Humlin and every other character fail to convey their thoughts and feelings, understandable when some are non-native Swedish speakers, bewildering when his mother, publisher, stock broker, and other friends also seem to be talking onl ...more
Beth Bruder
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I bought this in the Franfurt airport after the Book Fair expecting a Wallander novel but was pleasantly suprised at this revealing look into the lives of three immigrant women refugees in Sweden and their strufggle to survive. Not the usual Henning Mankell stuff but was beautifully written to reveal three girls harsh stories about surviving in Sweden.
Jun 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell is a fictional account about Jesper Humlin, a Swedish poet of moderate acclaim who is dealing with underwhelming book sales, an exasperated girlfriend, a demanding mother, and a rapidly fading tan. His boy-wonder stockbroker has squandered Humlin’s investments, and his editor, who says he must write a crime novel to survive, begins to pitch and promote the nonexistent book despite Humlin’s emphatic refusal to work on it. Then, when he travels to Gothenburg to ...more
Nov 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-fiction
I felt this was the most unsatisfactory of all Mankell's novels that I've read. Of his "non Wallander" novels I really liked one (The man from Beijing) and found another a bit odd but interesting (xxx). But "The shadow girls" deeply irritated me. I think he was trying to show that the worries and concerns of people from rich countries are trivial compared to the terrible circumstances of illegal refugees from Africa and Asia. While I have a lot of sympathy for that point of view, Mankell created ...more
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is so terribly, terribly earnest, I just wish it had been a lot more interesting. There's really no plot as such. A Swedish poet is in a quandary about his life and accidentally ends up trying to help three illegal aliens. Turns out (SPOILER ALERT?) he's not necessarily any better at this than anything else in his life.

None of the characters are innately interesting. All of the aliens do have (SPOILER ALERT) horrible back stories of abuse. None of them have found a real life in Sweden
Rebecca Stonehill
Jan 22, 2017 rated it liked it
There were some interesting themes and characters but I felt this book never amounted to what it could have - and intended to.
Nov 06, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-fiction
An unbearably boring and nombrilistic book to the point to be unreadable. If you want to waste your time, you're welcome, but this is beyond social satyre - it's just dumb and I have a strong suspicion that all the a-hole personalities are, in reality, a dissociative Henning Mankell writing about himself there. ...more
Minty McBunny
May 08, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2015, may-2015
I have read and enjoyed all of the Wallander books, I absolutely loved his last stand alone novel and I was delighted to see one I hadn't read in my library's catalog.

Until I read it. Or tried to. What on earth? It's horrible.

My son is at the stage in school where he has to figure out the author's intent when writing a story. I've been helping him, and it's pretty easy. Not in this case. I'm stumped. Was it supposed to be satire? It wasn't funny. Social commentary? Not relevant or insightful,
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It has taken me several days to write this review. This book left me both hot and cold in my feelings of it. I liked the premise of the storyline, but didn't like the story. Instead of it being a book on the tragedy of refugee camps and illegal immigration, it became some bizarre soap opera of this author. ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Count me in with those who enjoyed this side of Mankell. In these days of trying to pass serious legislation on immigration, it was a timely read on the plight of immigrants around the world trying to get to a better life. I listened to this as an audiobook.
Mish Middelmann
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An extraordinary bridge into the world of illegal immigrants in Europe. Mankell's own life experience (spread across Europe and Africa) enables him to write with passion and compassion for migrants. He helped me get into the awful world of illegal immigrants in a way that didn't pull punches about their pain yet left them empowered even in the most hopeless situations.

I didn't like the book at all at first. It opens into a dystopian Sweden, and the dysfunctional life of an unsuccessful Swedish p
Jun 21, 2021 rated it did not like it
A colleague recommended this book and it sat on my bookshelf for over a year.....because the fear with a book that is recommended is that you will not enjoy or it will alarm you about your acquaintance's preferences....which was the case with this book. I hated it. Read the first 1/3 looking for what was good....and dragged my feet through the last 1/3 just wanting to get it over with.
There was nothing wrong with the writing--- that part was fine, enjoyable, even--- so we cannot blame the trans
Jul 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sadly enough for so many people in this world this is reality! Don t we all want to live in peace and happiness, able to feed our children, visit doctor when needed, educate ourselves? Living life TOGETHER is much better than enjoying peace and plenty on your own. There is just ONE world, ONE life, and EVERY PERSON on this earth is made to live it well!! Let s share!!!
Thank you Henning for writing this book and making this appeal for righteous living to us all!!
Marissa Morrison
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Throughout his crime-writing career, Mankell often highlighted the misfortunes of refugees to Sweden. In this novel, Mankell's protagonist is a writer who struggles with telling refugees' stories while also coming up with a marketable plot. The writer's utter disdain for crime fiction (combined with seemingly everyone else's thirst for that genre) proves hilarious. There's enough humor here to balance out the very sad stories of the refugees.

I was surprised by Mankell's ability to be funny and a
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s an odd book. The purpose of this didactic work is to tell the story of illegal immigrants and thereby increase public awareness of their plight and perhaps of the restrictive immigration policies of European countries, Sweden in particular. I wonder why it took eleven years to be translated into English and published in the United States. We certainly have our own problems with the treatment of illegal immigrants. It’s a well-crafted novel. Humlin, the central character, and those around hi ...more
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is NOT a Kurt Wallander book. It is important to remember this to enjoy this book, which is quite different from the Wallander mysteries.

And enjoy it I did. Our protagonist is a poet, a published poet who seems to actually be living off his poetry, e is fairly self centered and has some worries about remaining a published poet when his publisher decides he really needs to, no must publish a crime story. He doesn't want to write a crime novel, even though virtually everyone he knows, includ
May 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a different type of book for Henning Mankell whose detective hero, Wallender, comes across as a dour, sad man. The Shadow Girls begins with the story of Tea-bag, a refugee, running away from her native home in Africa to the Promised Land of Sweden where she is sure she will be accepted. Of course, she is not. The subject matter is not surprising since Mankell is known for his support of the downtrodden--even to joining an illegal flotilla of ships trying to crash the blockade of Gaza set ...more
I can appreciate the spirit of this book, but it really wasn't very good. It might have been a problem with the translation, but Humlin's conversations seemed stiff and unbelievable (mostly with Andrea, the girlfriend, but also with the doctor and his publisher).

We are supposed to see the selfish egoistic Humlin (focused mostly on money and his tan and beating out Lundin) transform into a generous assistant to these refugee girls. Instead, he just kind of wanders through the whole book with thi
June Ahern
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Away from my usual murder mysteries and something to make my brain cells expand - that is Henning Mankell's The Shadow Girls to me. As said by another reviewer, The Shadow Girls is an odd book. Swedish humor (I did read it had humor in the jacket of the book) is not quite as easy a laugh as another culture's humor. Wait! Yes, his mother is a zany old woman, and mean, the protagonist's girlfriend is annoying but their relationship quarrels have a tinge of humor and the characters - oh the charact ...more
May 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Mankell begins this incredibly powerful book by introducing the reader to Tea Bag, a young woman living--if one can call it that--in a refugee camp in Spain. By age, she's more girl than woman, but her life experiences have forced on her a wisdom and maturity many adults never achieve. Then there is a jump to Jester Humlin, a critically successful poet whose books don't sell. We readers spend a lot of time with Humlin, perhaps wondering if this book is a comedy rather than a serious novel of ref ...more
Jann Barber
Oct 31, 2012 rated it liked it
If you're expecting a Wallander story, put this book down and walk away.

Jesper Humlin is a published poet. His publisher now wants him to write a crime novel, and despite Humlin's refusal, rolls over his protests and has his PR department work on title, cover, and press releases.

In the meantime, Humlin continues to appear at small venues in Sweden to read from his works. It is at one of these that he meets Tea-Bag, an undocumented immigrant from Nigeria. He later meets Leyla from Iran and Tanya
Clarice Stasz
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In an era of refugees, it is easy to view the news about them with disconnection, unless the journalist moves in to a particular person. One of our most socially conscious writers, Mankell examines the difficulties for refugees who flee from three different regions for safety in Europe. Instead of solace, they struggle to find freedom and keep their identities.

Even Sweden, somewhat more receptive, though not enough, proves challenging. The poet protaganist finds himself drawn into their lives a
Henning Mankell who is best known for his Inspector Wallander mysteries writes a stand alone piece of fiction that will have you laughing and crying in recognition of yourself and others in this often mixed up and dangerous world we live in. A poet who is pushed into a corner and feeling uncertain of his future, until he comes across three girls whose lives are in the shadows and he begins to see a true purpose to being alive. This is a story of refugees, writers and journeys both internal and ...more
Amanda Patterson
Dec 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
The Shadow Girls was first published as Tea-Bag in Swedish in 2001. It has just been released as The Shadow Girls.
I was expecting a crime novel. I was expecting a good read. I didn't get it.
The Shadow Girls is a nothing kind of a book. Apart from the three refugees whose story is woven in pieces through the novel, there are no likeable characters.
Jesper Humlin, the protagonist, is an unsuccessful poet. He is afraid of his angry girlfriend, his bitter mother, and his strident doctor. He is whin
May 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
Strange story and not at all what I expected from Mankell. The narratives of the girls concerning their experiences were, in general, excellent and gripping. The stories of the refugies were the most interesting, and the only reason why I finished the book.

I found some of the other parts of the novel sometimes idiotic, especially the comical conversations, at first interesting but then boring, between Humlin and his mother, stock broker and publisher. The predicaments that Humlin found himself i
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Henning Mankell was an internationally known Swedish crime writer, children's author and playwright. He was best known for his literary character Kurt Wallander.

Mankell split his time between Sweden and Mozambique. He was married to Eva Bergman, Swedish director and daughter of Ingmar Bergman.

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