Authors: Mankell Henning
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Man Who Smiled
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
The Return of the Dancing Master
Before the Frost
Chronicler of the Winds
I Die, but the Memory Lives on
Young Adult Fiction
A Bridge to the Stars
Shadows in the Twilight
When the Snow Fell
FROM THE SWEDISH
Steven T Murray
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Published by Harvill Secker, 2008
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Copyright © Henning Mankell, 1990
English translation copyright © Steven T Murray, 2008
Henning Mankell has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
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First published with the title
by Ordfronts Förlag, Stockholm
First published in Great Britain in 2008 by
HARVILL SECKER, Random House
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London SW1V 2SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
He wakes in the African night, convinced that his body
has split in two. Cracked open, as if his guts had exploded,
with the blood running down his face and chest.
In the darkness he fumbles in terror for the light switch, but
when he flips it there is no light, and he thinks the electricity must
be out again. His hand searches under the bed for a torch, but the
batteries are dead and so he lies there in the dark.
It's not blood, he tells himself. It's malaria. I've got the fever, the
sweat is being squeezed out of my body. I'm having nightmares,
fever dreams. Time and space are dissolving, I don't know where I
am, I don't even know if I'm still alive ...
Insects are crawling across his face, enticed by the moisture that
is oozing from his pores. He thinks he ought to get out of bed and
find a towel. But he knows he wouldn't be able to stand upright,
he would have to crawl, and maybe he wouldn't even be able to
make it back to bed. If I die now at least I'll be in my own bed, he
thinks, as he feels the next attack of fever coming on.
I don't want to die on the floor. Naked, with cockroaches crawling
across my face.
His fingers clutch at the wet sheet as he prepares himself for an
attack that will be more violent than the ones before. Feebly, in a
voice that is hardly audible, he cries out in the darkness for Luka,
but there is only silence and the chirping cicadas of the African
Maybe he's sitting right outside the door, he thinks in desperation.
Maybe he's sitting there waiting for me to die.
The fever comes rolling through his body in waves, like sudden
storm swells. His head burns as if thousands of insects were stinging
and boring into his forehead and temples. Slowly he is dragged away
from consciousness, sucked down into the underground corridors
of the fever attack, where he glimpses the distorted faces of nightmares
among the shadows.
I can't die now, he thinks, gripping the sheet to keep himself
But the suction draught of the malaria attack is stronger than
his will. Reality is chopped up, sawed into pieces that fit nowhere.
He believes he is sitting in the back seat of an old Saab that is
racing through the endless forests of Norrland in Sweden. He can't
see who is sitting in front of him: only a black back, no neck, no
It's the fever, he thinks again. I have to hold on, keep thinking
that it's only the fever, nothing more.
He notices that it has started to snow in the room. White flakes
are falling on his face and instantly it's cold all around him.
Now it's snowing in Africa, he thinks. That's odd, it really
shouldn't be doing that. I have to get hold of a spade. I have to get
up and start shovelling, otherwise I'll be buried in here.
Again he calls for Luka, but no one answers, no one comes. He
decides to fire Luka, that's the first thing he'll do if he survives this
Bandits, he thinks in confusion. Of course, that's who cut the
He listens and seems to hear the patter of their feet outside the
walls of the house. With one hand he grips the revolver under his
pillow, forces himself up to a sitting position, and points the gun
at the front door. He has to use both hands just to lift it, and in
desperation he fears he doesn't have enough strength in his finger
to pull the trigger.
I'm going to give Luka the sack, he thinks in a rage. He's the one
who cut the electrical line, he's the one who lured the bandits here.
I have to remember to fire him in the morning.
He tries to catch some snowflakes in the barrel of the revolver,
but they melt before his eyes.
I have to put on my shoes, he thinks. Otherwise I'll freeze to
With all his might he leans over the edge of the bed and searches
with one hand, but finds only the dead torch.
The bandits, he thinks groggily. They've stolen my shoes. They've
already been inside while I was asleep. Maybe they're still here ...
He fires the pistol out into the room. The shot roars in the dark
and he falls back against the pillows with the recoil, feeling calm,
Luka is behind it all, naturally. It was he who plotted with the
bandits, he who cut the electrical line. But now he's been unmasked,
so he has no more power. He will be sacked, chased off the farm.
They won't get me, he thinks. I'm stronger than all of them.
The insects continue boring into his forehead and he is very
tired. He wonders whether dawn is far off, and he thinks that he
must sleep. The malaria comes and goes, that's what is giving him
the nightmares. He has to force himself to distinguish what he's
imagining from what's real.
It can't snow here, he thinks. And I'm not sitting in the back
seat of an old Saab racing through the bright summer forests of
Norrland. I'm in Africa, not in Härjedal. I've been here for eighteen
years. I have to keep my mind together. The fever is compelling me
to stir up old memories, bring them to the surface, and to fool
myself that they're real.
Memories are dead things, albums and archives that have to be
kept cold and under lock and key. Reality requires my consciousness.
To have a fever is to lose one's internal directions. I mustn't
forget that. I'm in Africa and I've been here for eighteen years. It
was never my intention, but that's how it turned out.
I've lost count of how many times I've had malaria. Sometimes
the attacks are violent, like now; other times milder, a shadow of
fever that quickly passes across my face. The fever is seductive, it
wants to lure me away, creating snow even though it's over thirty
degrees Celsius. But I'm still here in Africa, I've always been here,
ever since I landed and stepped off the plane in Lusaka. I was going
to stay a few weeks, but I've been here a long time, and that is the
truth. It is not snowing.
His breathing is heavy and he feels the fever dancing inside him.
Dancing him back to the beginning, to that early morning eighteen
years ago when for the first time he felt the African sun on his face.
From the mists of the fever an instant of great clarity emerges,
a landscape in which the contours are sharp and washed clean. He
brushes off a large cockroach that is feeling his nostril with its
antennae and sees himself standing in the doorway of the big jet
at the top of the mobile staircase they have brought out.
He recalls that his first impression of Africa was how the sunshine
turned the concrete of the airport completely white. Then a smell,
something bitter, like an unknown spice or a charcoal fire.
That's how it was, he thinks. I will be able to reproduce that
moment exactly, for as long as I live. It was eighteen years ago. Much
of what happened later I've forgotten. For me Africa became a habit.
A realisation that I can never feel completely calm when faced with
this wounded and lacerated continent ... I, Hans Olofson, have
grrown used to the fact that it's impossible for me to comprehend
anything but fractions of this continent. But despite this perpetual
disadvantage I have persevered, I have stayed on, learned one of the
many languages that exist here, become the employer of over 200
I've learned to endure this peculiar life, that involves being both
loved and hated at the same time. Each day I stand face to face
with 200 black human beings who would gladly murder me, slit
my throat, offer up my genitals in sacrifice, eat my heart.
Every morning when I awake I am still, after eighteen years,
surprised to be alive. Every evening I check my revolver, rotate the
magazine with my fingers, make sure that no one has replaced the
cartridges with empty ones.
I, Hans Olofson, have taught myself to endure the greatest loneliness.
Never before had I been surrounded by so many people who
demand my attention, my decisions, but who at the same time
watch over me in the dark; invisible eyes that follow me expectantly,
But my most vivid memory is still that moment when I descended
from the plane at Lusaka International Airport eighteen years ago.
I keep returning to that moment, to gather courage, the power to
survive; back to a time when I still knew my own intentions ...
Today my life is a journey through days coloured by unreality.
I live a life that belongs neither to me nor to anyone else. I am
neither successful nor unsuccessful in what I set out to accomplish.
What possesses me is a constant amazement at what actually
did happen. What was it that really brought me here, made me
take that long journey from the remote interior of Norrland, still
covered in snow, to an Africa that had not summoned me? What
is it in my life that I have never understood?
The most curious thing is that I've been here for so long. I was
twenty-five when I left Sweden, and now I'm forty-three. My hair
began turning grey long ago; my beard, which I never manage to
shave off, is already completely white. I've lost three teeth, two in
the lower jaw and one in the top left. The tip of my ring finger on
my right hand is severed at the first knuckle, and sometimes I suffer
from pain in my kidneys. I regularly dig out white worms that have
bored underneath the skin on the soles of my feet. In the first few
years I could scarcely bring myself to carry out these operations
using sterilised tweezers and nail scissors. Now I grab a rusty nail
or a knife that's lying about and carve out the parasites living in my
Sometimes I try to view all these years in Africa as a wrinkle in
my life, one which will some day turn out to never have happened.
Maybe it's an insane dream that will be smashed apart when I finally
manage to extricate myself from the life I'm living here. Someday
this wrinkle in my life will have to be smoothed out ...
In his attacks of fever, Olofson is flung against invisible reefs that
tear his body apart. For brief moments the storm subsides, and he
rocks on the waves and feels himself quickly turning into a block
of ice. But just when he thinks the cold has reached his heart and
frozen his last heartbeat to stillness, the storm returns and the fever
slings him once more against the burning reefs.
In the restless, shredded dreams that rage like demons in his
mind he keeps returning to the day he came to Africa. The white
sun, the long journey that brought him to Kalulushi, and to this
night, eighteen years later.
Like a malevolent figure, with no head or neck, the fever attack
stands before him. With one hand he clutches his revolver, as if it
were his last salvation.
The malaria attacks come and go.
Hans Olofson, once raised in a grim wooden house on the banks
of the Ljusna River, shakes and shivers under his wet sheet.
From his dreams the past emerges, a reflection of the story he
has still not given up hope of someday understanding ...