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A Treacherous Paradise

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From the internationally acclaimed author of the Kurt Wallander crime novels, a powerful stand-alone novel set in early-twentieth-century Sweden and Mozambique, whose vividly drawn female protagonist is awoken from her naïveté by her exposure to racism and by her own unexpected inner strengths.

Cold and poverty define Hanna Renström’s childhood in remote northern Sweden, and in 1904, at nineteen, she boards a ship for Australia in hope of a better life.  But none of her hopes—or fears—prepares her for the life she will lead. After two brief marriages both leave her widowed, she finds herself the owner of a bordello in Portuguese East Africa, a world where colonialism and white colonists rule, where she is isolated within white society by her profession and her gender, and, among the bordello’s black prostitutes, by her color.

As Hanna’s story unfurls over the next several years in this “treacherous paradise,” she wrestles with a devastating loneliness and with the racism she’s meant to unthinkingly adopt. And as her life becomes increasingly intertwined with the prostitutes’, she moves inexorably toward the moment when she will make a decision that defies all the expectations society has of her and, more important, those she has of herself.

Gripping in its drama, evocative and searing in its portrait of colonial Africa, A Treacherous Paradise is, at its heart, a deeply moving story of a woman who manages to wrench wisdom, empathy, and grace from the most unforgiving circumstances. 

384 pages, Hardcover

First published August 1, 2011

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About the author

Henning Mankell

246 books3,459 followers
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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 512 reviews
Profile Image for Amy Warrick.
524 reviews31 followers
September 10, 2013
I couldn't read this... got about a third of the way through and quit. This reads like a particularly dry biography; tough slogging.
At one point there is an incident in which the residents of this small African town, circa 1904 or so, hear that there is an iceberg visible from the harbor. They all go running down to look, but there's nothing there. This book is like that.
Profile Image for Kasa Cotugno.
2,337 reviews440 followers
August 14, 2013
Henning Mankell is credited for being the first author of Scandinavian crime thrillers to reach an international audience (although he has credited Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo for his own inspiration). His Kurt Wallander series were notable due to his flawed and all-too-human detective with an incredibly strong backstory. Each novel in the series dispensed with the usual formula, and many had ties to other countries, several of them in Africa. Mankell's knowledge of and love for that continent run deep seeing as he spends half the year in Mozambique.

A Treacherous Paradise is the latest of several historical novels that explain and illuminate his second home. Based on the thinnest of historical fact, that of the tax rolls of the town where his heroine owned a brothel in the early 20th century, Mankell delivers a saga of how Hanna came ashore in Laurenco Marques and found herself faced with unexpected reactions to racism and inequality. What she learns about herself and passes onto the reader is the result of Mankell's evocative prose and storytelling prowess. This is definitely the best of his African histories.
Profile Image for Sharon.
695 reviews
July 8, 2013
Need to gather my reactions.......hard for me as HM is one of my favorite writers for many years and I never had this lack of enthusiasm before!
This book had such a flat lifelessness to it despite the story.

I had such a difficult time believing that a dirt poor country girl on the verge of starvation, in the space of very little time, could self educate herself and elevate herself sufficiently from her roots to maid, to cook on a ship, marry, be widowed, jump ship then wake up from an illness and dress up to become a business woman let alone all the other issues at hand. Hannah, Anna, Hannah...whatever just never took proper shape for me. She was what the author made from a brief bit of story told him thought to have happened and he has made up quite a tale. Why? I think as with much of Henning Mankell's writing he wants to address the racial issues, political issues, colonization and things he finds troubling and wrong. He does bring his politics into Wallander as well.
I know the author lives his life between Mozambique /Sweden and I applaud his attempt but ......
There were for me too many off the wall events and characters, let alone causes and issues.
Profile Image for Carol.
348 reviews322 followers
April 30, 2014
***3.5 Stars*** Henning Mankell writes a first-class, character based thriller and I've read many of those. This one has nothing to do with the Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander. It was still an interesting historical fiction based in Portuguese Africa (Mozambique) in the early 1900s. A Swedish woman was once the owner of one of the largest brothels in that area (according to some tax records). The author started with this little known fact and elaborated from there.

Henning divides his time between Sweden and Mozambique; and, this novel reflects his love of Africa. I also got a keen sense of his views on colonization and racism. It may not have been his typical Nordic crime story but it was still a thought-provoking and enjoyable read.

Profile Image for Bonnie.
863 reviews48 followers
July 20, 2013
Henning Mankell is one of my very favorites authors and I have read all of his Kurt Wallender series and several of his stand-alone novels. I couldn't wait to read this one translated and copyrighted on 2013, and I was not disappointed. This settings for this story are early twentieth century Sweden and Mozambique, where according to Henkell's biography, he divides his time.

The protagonist is Hanna Renstrom who lives in the harsh environment of northern Sweden. When conditins worsen and Hanna turns eighteen, her mother arranges for her to be taken by sleigh to a larger city by a man named Jonathan Forsman in hopes she could find employment. She ends up staying in Forsman's house as a maid until one day a sea captain arrives to talk with her. She is to be taken aboard to serve as cook on his ship headed for Australia. Once on the ship, she meets one of the sailors and marries him. When he dies after contracting a fever from going into an African village, Hanna watches his burial at sea and not able to stay on the ship because of memories, leaves and starts her life in Africa. She checks into a hotel where she miscarries a baby and is so weak she must stay. When she finds out the hotel is really a brothal, she stays and eventually marries the owner.

The plot relays her adventures in Lagoon of Good Death where she inherits her husband's monkey Carlos, and becomes extremely wealthy. Most of the novel is taken up with the disparity between the whites and blacks and how she comes to realize she owes something to this town she has chosen as her own. Another great book by a great author.
Profile Image for Victoria Moore.
294 reviews3 followers
June 25, 2014
I became so bewitched while reading Henning Mankell's novel "A Treacherous Paradise" I took my time as I neared the end, because I hoped the resolution would be a happy one. Based on a real person, the fictional protagonist Hanna Renstrom is a perpetually lost soul in a world full of rejection, prejudice and cruelty. Forced out on her own at a young age she endures an arduous journey that leads her from Sweden to Lourenco Marques, Beira and the unknown.
Set in the early 1900s she eventually becomes the owner of a brothel, and a very wealthy woman, when her second husband dies. Despite her feelings about the business, and the heartless racism the Blacks were subject to in Colonial Africa, she still manages to hang onto her humanity and befriend a chimpanzee named Carlos, who becomes her animal soul mate.
Unbearably sad, but beautifully written, Mankell managed to give an ugly time an aura that mystified and gave pleasure at the same time.
Profile Image for Javier Casado.
Author 8 books62 followers
March 16, 2018
Un libro relativamente tranquilo y pausado, pero que se lee muy bien. La historia de una joven campesina sueca que, partiendo de la extrema pobreza, e intentando huir de ella, termina por casualidad siendo la próspera propietaria de uno de los mayores prostíbulos de Mozambique, en la capital Lourenço Marques, actual Maputo.

Hanna partirá de Suecia empleada como cocinera de un barco rumbo a Australia. Por el camino se casará con uno de los oficiales de a bordo, sólo para enviudar un mes después como consecuencia de unas fiebres. Rota por el dolor, abandonará el barco en su escala en Mozambique y, también enferma, será acogida en lo que ella cree un hotel, pero que resulta ser el prostíbulo O Paraíso.

Con el tiempo, su protector, el dueño del establecimiento, se convertirá también en su marido… sólo para morir también poco más adelante dejándola como rica heredera.

Hanna se verá así, sin esperarlo, convertida en una de las personalidades más relevantes de Lourenço Marques. Una ciudad del Africa Negra en la que los blancos son los amos y someten a la población local a un régimen no ya sólo de esclavitud, sino de profundo desprecio, en la sólida convicción de que se trata de seres infrahumanos cuyas vidas resultan totalmente indiferentes.

Hanna se verá atrapada entre la clase blanca, a la que pertenece, y la relación con los negros (especialmente, las negras) que son sus empleadas en el prostíbulo. Y, si bien al principio se deja llevar por las costumbres locales en el trato a los negros, poco a poco se va rebelando contra una situación que empieza a descubrir como totalmente inhumana e inaceptable.

El libro se convierte así, en su segunda mitad, en un pequeño alegato contra el racismo, desde el personaje de una mujer que poco a poco va haciéndose más fuerte, dejando de ser la niña indefensa que dejó Suecia para convertirse en una mujer con cierto poder que intenta utilizarlo para cambiar las cosas, aunque tan sólo sea a muy pequeña escala. Algo que, como no puede ser de otra forma, la enfrentará a la comunidad blanca.

En resumen, una novela que, sin ser demasiado original ni poder decir que tenga un valor excepcional en ningún momento, lo cierto es que se lee muy bien, de forma ágil, y resulta amena y deja buen sabor de boca. Quizás sea demasiado calificarla con 4 estrellas, pero desde luego la considero algo por encima de la media que suponen las 3 estrellas. Una lectura muy agradable.
Profile Image for Mike Mitchell.
82 reviews1 follower
August 6, 2013
I'm a pretty big fan of Mankell and I grabbed this expecting existential killers and gloomy detectives. None of that here. Instead, we get an engaging story of a young Swedish woman and her unlikely adventures in Africa at the turn on the century. After getting over the ire of my self generated bait and switch, I settled down and enjoyed the book. Unique and engaging, I'd recommend it to just about anyone. Just don't get your hopes up for Nordic psycho killers.
Profile Image for Amos.
634 reviews73 followers
January 15, 2021
A creative and unflinching expose on race relations in 1904's Africa disguised as a young Swedish girl's coming of age tale as she leaves her impoverished childhood home to find a life worth living abroad. Written with honesty, grace and sprinkled with humor, I found A Treacherous Paradise both thought provoking and immensely enjoyable. Four well deserved stars....

Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 28 books392 followers
April 6, 2017
Among the countless books and plays written by the masterful Swedish writer Henning Mankell are nine novels and one collection of five short stories about the life and work of a troubled police detective named Kurt Wallander in the town of Ystad, Sweden. The Wallander series, which has been produced on television both in Sweden and in the UK (starring Kenneth Branagh), is one of the best collections of crime novels I’ve read — and I’ve read a lot of them. But Mankell unaccountably set aside the complex detective in 2011 to devote himself to other writing projects. If A Treacherous Paradise, his most recent novel, is any indication, he should have stuck to crime in Sweden.

There’s nothing wrong with A Treacherous Paradise that a more interesting plot couldn’t have cured. Mankell knows how to keep a story moving and to hold a reader’s attention, and he perceives the hidden complexities and contradictions in human character. However, this simple tale of a young woman named Hanna Renstrom who leaves her home in the famine-stricken Swedish countryside in 1904 and soon finds herself in Africa through misadventure is . . . well, it’s just not interesting enough. True enough, there are complications galore in Hanna’s life: she is twice widowed in the course of the novel, and she ends up owning and running a brothel. And Mankell scrapes away the surface of life in what was then called Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) to reveal the underlying fear and desperation that afflicts both masters and servants. But Hanna’s erratic behavior is frequently difficult to understand. Maybe a murder or two would have enlivened this tale!

For many years, Henning Mankell has spent at least half of every year living in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where he works as artistic director of a local theater. He is an outspoken leftist activist and is married to Ingmar Bergman’s daughter.
Profile Image for Michelle Only Wants to Read.
383 reviews57 followers
November 24, 2015
This is a good book I didn't like.

Even though I was irritated with the character, especially toward the end. I give the book three stars. If a well-written book can bring up so many emotions (negative or positive) in me, it means the writer did a good job.

Profile Image for Becky.
221 reviews9 followers
January 7, 2014
Very different from the Wallander series, in structure, style, genre, everything. Writing seems sometimes childlike, perhaps to emphasize main character's simple view of life based on a limited life experience. Perhaps a simple style as a result of translation? Story deals with complex morality as seen thru the eyes of an 18 yr old woman from backwater Sweden. Each issue she confronts shapes her, as our life challenges shape us. Most of us can, I think, be grateful not to have to navigate the rocks tha Hanna traveled. Based on a real person and her diary, the author imagines a past and present for her. At the end, however, we are left to our own devices to imagine Hanna's future.

The death and burial of the chimp made me weep, as did the love story.

This is an odd book, but I am glad I finished it
Profile Image for Jostein.
41 reviews2 followers
February 5, 2014
"Un ange sale", voilà comment son père la définissait et c’est le début de toute l’ambiguïté du personnage d’Hanna. Lorsque Elin, sa mère lui fait fuir la disette, l’envoie en ville chercher une vie meilleure, elle n’a que dix huit ans et commence son long voyage sur le traîneau de l’armateur suédois Forsman.
De là, il lui propose d’embarquer comme cuisinière à bord du Lovisa, un bateau en route vers l’Australie. Son destin s’accélère. Mariée au second du bateau, puis veuve, elle décide de débarquer lors d’une escale en Afrique orientale portugaise. Elle sera soignée d’une fausse couche dans un hôtel qui se révèle être un bordel géré par Attimilio Vaz, un portugais.
Désœuvrée, seule, elle s’installe en cette baie de la Bonne Mort et devient la tenancière du bordel.
L’auteur parvient magistralement à faire ressentir cette peur réciproque des deux populations, l’abîme entre les deux façons de vivre. Les Blancs méprisent et avilissent ceux qu’ils sont venus déposséder. Mais ils craignent l’émeute inévitable des Noirs soumis, silencieux mais informés et prompts à réagir.
Les choix précipités et comportements surprenants d’Hanna, les croyances des Noirs montrent toute l’incompréhension qu’il peut régner entre ces deux mondes. C’est vraiment ce qui m’a séduit dans ce roman, l’art de l’auteur à susciter l’étonnement pour mieux appréhender ce gouffre entre deux cultures.
Avec le destin incroyable de cette jeune suédoise, Henning Mankell nous plonge avec force et mystère au cœur de cette incompréhension entre autochtones et colons.
Un "ange sale" avec "un pied dans chaque camp" montre les conséquences de la colonisation, les effets racistes malheureusement toujours d’actualité.
" Dieu est blanc. Je l’ai toujours imaginé ainsi. Mais jamais aussi clairement qu’aujourd’hui."

Un roman fort, passionnant, émouvant écrit par un maître du suspense grand connaisseur de l’Afrique où il réside partiellement. Je le classe dans la catégorie Coup de cœur de la rentrée 2013.
Profile Image for June Ahern.
Author 4 books67 followers
September 28, 2014
The story of Hanna Renstrom is a poignant adventure into the unknown.A A fictional account about a young woman rags to riches named Hannah. She is a fictional character in history that if a real person, people would be in awe of, or think she's a liar. I truly enjoyed this story. I read some reviewers say it was slow, didn't go anywhere, was muddled. To me, it was reflective writing. To stop and image how that might be for a young, uneducated country girl from Sweden who left home uncertain and afraid of her future life. Would she ever return to the only home she ever knew? How could she exist in a world she knew nothing about? We follow her from the cold countryside to the sweltering heat of Africa where a new life is created for her by chance.

This is not a "who-done-it" mystery, a cop killing detective story like some of Mankell's other books. It's a story of chance, of adventure, of one woman's life. It is not a quick read unless the reader wishes it to be.

This is what makes Hening Mankell a most talented writer. A master of his craft. He can entertain, teach and provoke thought as in "A Treacherous Paradise" where one looks the bold face of racism and greed.

The story is includes the history of European exploits of Africa early 1900's (and before) and then again, we must remember, fiction comes from the eyes, ears and mouth of the author. To quibble over "facts" in a fictional story is like thinking your take of a piece of poetry or artwork is right and anyone how doesn't see it your way, is wrong. It's a fictional story but could it have been otherwise? I leave that to the imagine of the reader.

My own gripe is the ending where I had to think for myself. Darn! Kudos to Mr. Mankell.
Profile Image for David Highton.
2,800 reviews15 followers
July 11, 2017
A standalone novel by Henning Mankell set in 1905 Mozambique. Mankell inserted a role for Africa into several of his Wallender novels, but this portrays an earlier time with Portugese settlers lording over indigenous black Africans, to the shock and disquiet to a very young widow from the very north cold wastes of Sweden. A fascinating tale.
Profile Image for Jennifer S. Alderson.
Author 27 books634 followers
August 4, 2018
I am a fan of the Wallander series and wanted to read a book set in Mozambique for a Goodreads group challenge, so this book caught my eye.
It is an intimate portrayal of a young Swedish woman's eye-opening experiences, having landed quite unexpectedly in then-Portuguese East Africa. By chance Hanna ends up becoming the owner of a brothel and is confronted with a social and political system she, as a European outsider, has no real grasp of.
It is a sometimes gripping, often depressing, look at Colonial Africa. The story is well written and the descriptions of place were often lovely, in contrast to those of society in general.
213 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2021
I can’t say I enjoyed reading this book in fact I found it quite distressing and uncomfortable- perhaps that was the point. Hanna’s journey from a poor rural Swedish area where her mother tells her to leave because she can no longer afford to feed her to brothel owner in Africa was a little difficult to believe and her relationship with Carlos was worrying to say the least. I won’t give the ending away but I thought it a little unsatisfactory.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,778 reviews208 followers
June 30, 2022
The Mucky Angel

"A Treacherous Paradise" was the first novel I have read by Henning Mankell. Unlike many other reviewers of this book, I have not read any of Mankell's highly-regarded works of crime fiction. Thus, I could only read this book for itself. I read "A Treacherous Paradise" shortly after learning of Mankell's recent death (1948 -- October 5, 2015).

This novel is set early in the 20th century in Sweden, on the high seas, and in the Portuguese colony in South Africa that became Mozambique. Mankell had lived in Mozambique and became familiar with its history and people. The primary character is a young woman who goes by many names and nicknames during the course of the novel. She receives the nickname "the mucky angel" early in life. In this review, I will call her Hanna Renstrom, the name she was given at birth.

The novel tells the story of part of Hanna's life beginning with her birth in rural Sweden which suffers a devastating famine when she reaches adolescence. Hanna moves to the city and ultimately sets forth as a cook on a voyage to Australia. She marries the third mate who dies soon thereafter. Hanna finds herself ill in Portuguese Africa in a village called Lourenco Marque where she discovers she has unwittingly checked into a brothel. She marries the brothel owner who dies leaving her a widow for the second time within a year. Hanna becomes the owner of the brothel and moves suddenly from poverty to wealth. The novel traces Hanna's life and the growth of her character in Portuguese Africa.

I loved much of this novel but found that it deteriorated. Unfortunately, I found more to dislike than to like. The novel begins with wonderful promise in describing rural life in Sweden and contrasting it to the life Hanna encounters away from her family in the city. It proceeds beautifully as well with its depiction of life at sea, with the captain and crew, as Hanna is the only woman on the ship. The novel includes fine, historically informed portrayals of Portuguese Africa and of the terrible way in which black people were treated.

With much to commend it, the book ultimately fails. The story becomes overly freighted. The book works well when it describes and when it tries to imagine the life of Hanna, the Swedish woman who comes to the colony under mysterious circumstances and ultimately finds herself owner of a brothel. The author asks, however, more of this young woman than any person in her situation can credibly give. More importantly, the book moves from a story about an individual person and the remarkable events of her life. It turns instead into a coincidence-driven moralizing and didactic novel about the mistreatment of black people in colonial Africa, the status of women, and the claimed solidarity of the lives of the poor worldwide, particularly in rural Sweden and in Africa. The novel become highly polemical and preachy in tone. It is anachronistic in that it tells a historical story to address what the author sees as continued wrong and abuse in the world. The book becomes a political tract rather than a story.

The writing in the book is likewise of mixed character. The translation from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson is readable and at times eloquent. The writing also frequently is stilted. The book rambles on too slowly largely because the format of many short chapters makes it disjointed. Some of the secondary characters, such as a Catholic priest are well described; while other characters such as a nearly-human chimpanzee are less so. The development of Hanna's character as she becomes aware of the abysmal treatment of blacks and women is strained in the extreme and detracts from what could have been a lively story if the extensive moralization and politicization had been reduced. With that said, the book offers some insightful observations about the relationship between the colonizers and the native Africans in colonial Africa. For example, here is one of Hanna's reflections late in the book.

" I live in a black world in which the whites use up all their energy deceiving both themselves and the blacks, she thought. They believe that the people who live here wouldn't be able to survive without them, and that black people are inferior because they believe that rocks and trees have a soul. But the blacks in turn fail to understand how anybody could treat a son of God so badly that they nail Him onto a cross. They are amazed by the fact that whites come here and rush around all the time in such a hurry that their hearts soon give way, unable to cope with the never-ending hunt for wealth and power. Whites don't love life. They love time, which they always have far too little of."

There is so much good in the book that I am sorry its overall effect is unsatisfactory. The author fails to let his character be herself and encumbers her with a modern, contrived perspective on important issues. I am still glad I got to know something of this author and of his writing.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Frederic Hunter.
12 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2014
(Note to the reader: I am interested in fiction about Africa. I embarked on Henning Mankell’s A Treacherous Paradise because it was recommended to me as about Portuguese East Africa. I have not read any of Mankell’s Kurt Wallander mysteries that apparently have a devoted following.)
Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, who improbably spends half of each year in Maputo, Mozambique, came upon an improbable seed for a novel there. In the early 1900s the most lucrative brothel in Lourenço Marques, the capital of Portuguese East (now Maputo), was owned and run by a Swedish woman. A Treacherous Paradise is what resulted from his growing and nurturing that seed.
His heroine Hanna (aka Ana Branca) goes from rural poverty in Sweden to signing on as cook on a freighter hauling lumber to Australia to marrying the ship’s third mate. He quickly dies causing her to jump ship in Lourenço Marques. She shelters in the hotel O Paraiso, a front for LM’s most profitable brothel, miscarries, marries Senhor Vaz, the brothel owner. He proves to be impotent and shortly dies, bequeathing O Paraiso to his widow. Complications ensue.
In one sense the book is a catalog of the pairings that grow out of a racially stratified society: white colonials exploiting black locals; bestial white men exploiting downtrodden black women; and a variety of turnings on this theme. There are great potentialities here. Even some for magical realism.
But Mankell sets up a perplexing situation. A Treacherous Paradise puts a repressed, uncommunicative Ingmar Bergman character out of the frigid north in the hot, sensual, expressive magico-realist country of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Understandably, Hanna has trouble adjusting. But she has no friends (and therefore no confidants to whom she can reveal herself). And she has no sense of humor and so no capacity to find amusement in the ironies that abound. Moreover, Mankell removes her from much of the action. She lives on a slope above the town and watches the brothel through binoculars (instead of being there). When an abortive rebellion breaks out, she witnesses it from afar; other authors would have placed her in the thick of it.
The only being with whom twenty-year-old Hanna has an ongoing relationship is Carlos, a chimpanzee – half-human, half-animal – who wears clothes, counts money, occasionally shares Hanna’s bed and grabs her breasts. Carlos is clearly a symbol although it’s not entirely clear for what. At one point Hanna muses: “Perhaps I see Carlos as a reflection of myself.”
Anyone who’s read James Jones’ From Here to Eternity knows that clients can have fun in a brothel. But not in O Paraiso. If there’s singing, dancing, laughter and riotous living, Mankell never tells us about it. How can it possibly be the funnest place in town?
A lively style would have made this a much more interesting book, a good read along with all those racial ironies and odd pairings and the magical realism more magical. Has the translator badly served the author? The writing is flat, repetitive and awkward (“a half-asleep soldier”). It is also littered with clichés; here’s a collection from less than 20 pages: “she sat for ages in front of her open diary;” “what he said was the truth and nothing but the truth;” “something every sensible soldier is scared stiff of:” “At last the penny dropped for O’Neill.”
In the book’s last fifty pages it becomes more obviously a work of magical realism. It’s still trying to resolve the complexities of colonial racism. To do this Hanna/Ana feels attracted to the black brother of a woman she’s tried vainly to help. They have sex; she hopes she’s conceived. She talks to the white captain of the boat taking her away from LM and recognizes him as a frequent patron of O Paraiso. She asks about his preferred partner; he says he wishes he could marry her. Oh, if we could all have sex together and marry improbable partners! Maybe that woul d solve everything in a magico-realist world.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,595 reviews26 followers
February 6, 2017
Three and a half stars. If I hadn't been thrown off reading "Treacherous Paradise" by the cover, at least the edition I read, I was hesitant to begin this book because I've read one of Mankell's Wallender series. They are great mysteries, but so dark. However, I ventured forth and discovered this is a "stand-alone" book about a young Swedish woman who is forced to leave her home because there aren't the resources to feed the entire family. Hanna Lundmark is hired as a cook aboard a ship bound for Australia. She doesn't make it to Australia, though as she jumps ship at a coastal town in Portuguese East Africa. This tells you something of the independence and strong will of the young woman. She is uncomfortable in the environment, and especially dislikes the colonial view of whites and how they treat the natives. Hanna, therefore isn't really accepted in either community, it through strange events she becomes a very wealthy woman. Mankell based the book on an obscure reference in tax files of the area of a white woman who paid taxes on a black brothel. It's not a fast-paced book, but the picture it gives of the time and the place are interesting, and the writing is engaging.
Profile Image for Joanne.
104 reviews1 follower
June 17, 2013
I received A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell as a Goodreads First-reads giveaway winner. It was about a Swedish young woman, Hanna, who had to leave her home because her mother no longer had the resources to provide for her and there no opportunities for Hanna to improve her life where they lived. In 2 years she travels to many countries, discovers new cultures, different races, and learns about people and herself. She also goes from being very poor, to being very wealthy. It was an interesting read and was based on a person who actually existed, but the story was fictional. It was well written and the characters were well thought out. This was during a very difficult time in history. There was slavery in Africa, disease was rampant and people were either rich or poor. I found the book to be very thought provoking and had a hard time putting it down. I hope you enjoy it too.
Profile Image for Amy.
328 reviews11 followers
January 14, 2014
I think that this was a different departure for Mr. Haskell, as I assumed that he wrote mainly mysteries.This was a fascinating tale of a Swedish woman sent into the world by her mother due to her families extreme poverty. She eventually winds up on a boat that is bound for Australia. She is hired as the cook and falls in love with a fellow mate and they marry.Their happy union is short lived and he dies of fever.He is buried at sea and Hanna is devastated.At the next port of call, she leaves the ship because she feels his spirit will not leave her alone. This the beginning of her amazing adventure in what is 1904 Mozambique. A strong and uplifting novel.
Profile Image for Margaret Joyce.
Author 1 book22 followers
September 23, 2014
This book bars no punches - yet, it's lyrical, sensitive and powerfully carried off. There is clarity and beauty in the way Mankell delivers what is in fact quite an atrocious story: that of the experience of blacks under the power of colonial whites, in Portuguese East Africa in 1905.
The lens through which the reader sees and feels is the persona of Hannah, a young Swedish woman who unexpectedly finds herself 'there'. An amazing read with a strong call out for righteousness in what is now known as Mabuto, Mozambique, where the author spends much of his time.
Profile Image for Junying.
Author 4 books88 followers
May 29, 2015
I always enjoy reading Mankell and this time was no exception. I don't usually read historical fiction but I'll read anything that this Swedish author writes.

I loved his previous books set in Africa. It is through his stories and other writers' that I get a glimpse of what life was like in that Continent. I have limited knowledge about Africa so it's very educational for me when I indulge in a book which takes me to a journey through the unknown territory.

Mankell's story-telling is engaging, and I'll always recommend him to anyone who enjoys a good read.
Profile Image for Renee.
771 reviews23 followers
August 12, 2013
I wasn't really impressed with Mankell's writing or this story. His historical references felt off the cuff and unresearched, and he seemed to lean to heavily on modern political points of view. Also, his writing style was incredibly staccato, and I felt like it totally prevented the story from flowing--which didn't help its readability (or lack thereof). Too bad, the premise was quite promising and I was excited for this one.
Profile Image for Stephanie Jane.
Author 2 books229 followers
November 15, 2017
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

Having been a tad underwhelmed by my first (and the first) Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, I have since steered clear of Henning Mankell books. However, a lack of choice at my last campsite book exchange meant that I decided to give him another try - especially when I realised that this particular story is historical fiction, not a crime novel. Inspired by a real woman about whom very little is known, Mankell has imagined the life of a young Swedish woman who becomes stranded in early 1900s Mozambique, then snappily known as Portuguese East Africa.

Apparently Mankell partly lives in Mozambique and this familiarity with the country certainly came through in his writing. He describes his locations well from the desperate poverty of rural Sweden to the long boat voyage to the dust and heat of East Africa. I liked how he attempted to portray all sides of the African racial divide. As a Swede, our heroine Hanna initially sees herself as apart from all aspects of Lourenço Marques society, but of course her white skin immediately identifies her as belonging to the European colonists rather than with the black townfolk, even though she feels a greater affinity with their predicament having come from a serf underclass herself. It's an interesting angle through which to view the culture clash, although I did think some of Hanna's thoughts and ideas were more 21st century than early 20th. In common with my previous read, The Underground Railroad, I also felt that Hanna wasn't strongly portrayed enough to maintain focus at the centre of this novel. She often behaved more in keeping with a male character than as I felt a woman would do and this jarred for me. Other than that, I enjoyed reading A Treacherous Paradise and am interested to discover more of Mankell's historical novels.
Profile Image for Anna Björklund.
943 reviews12 followers
April 8, 2018
En intressant roman om en svensk, ung, kvinna som reser från Sverige till Australien men hoppar av fartyget i Afrika och skapar sig ett liv på en bordell. En berättelse som drivs av spännande karaktärer, Hannas inre dialog och av intressanta detaljer.
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