Quicksand, p.1Henning Mankell
PRAISE FOR HENNING MANKELL’S
“[Quicksand] defines life not by its ending but by the creative and humanitarian content that filled—and fulfilled—Mankell’s life….The essays…sharpen with resounding poignancy.”
“An extremely moving swan song….The reader realizes that Mankell has never really been driven by anger but by the tiny, fragile hope that his words and deeds will help in the fight for a fairer world.”
—The Independent (London)
“Uplifting and, as a memoir, as unusual a creation as [Mankell’s] Nordic detective, Kurt Wallander.”
“Throughout Quicksand, there are scenes [of] joy and triumph in the midst of suffering and loss. This grave book…takes us to these places in the thoughtful company of a great soul.”
“[An] absorbing addition to the work of Sweden’s most internationally famous writer since August Strindberg….Quicksand, a hybrid of essay and memoir, reflects knowledgeably on art, religion, childhood, and the ‘final insensibility’ that is our dying. Rarely has a writer contemplated the mystery of the end of life with such a wide-ranging curiosity.”
—London Evening Standard
Henning Mankell’s novels have been translated into forty-five languages and have sold more than forty million copies worldwide. He was the first winner of the Ripper Award and also received the Glass Key and the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger, among other awards. His Kurt Wallander mysteries have been adapted into a PBS television series starring Kenneth Branagh. During his life, Mankell divided his time between Sweden and Mozambique, where he was the artistic director of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo. He died in 2015.
Laurie Thompson taught modern languages at universities in Sweden and Wales. He was a founding member of SELTA (the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association) and edited the journal Swedish Book Review from its launch until 2002. As a freelance translator of Swedish literature, he translated more than fifty books, the last of which was Henning Mankell’s Quicksand. He died in 2015.
ALSO BY HENNING MANKELL
Kurt Wallander Series
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Man Who Smiled
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
Before the Frost
The Troubled Man
An Event in Autumn
The Return of the Dancing Master
Chronicler of the Winds
The Eye of the Leopard
The Man from Beijing
The Shadow Girls
A Treacherous Paradise
I Die, But the Memory Lives On
Young Adult Fiction
A Bridge to the Stars
Shadows in the Twilight
When the Snow Fell
Journey to the End of the World
The Cat Who Liked Rain
A VINTAGE BOOKS ORIGINAL, JANUARY 2017
English translation copyright © 2016 by Laurie Thompson
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Originally published in Sweden as Kvicksand by Leopard förlag, Stockholm, in 2014.
Copyright © 2014 by Henning Mankell. This translation originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Harvill Secker, an imprint of Vintage Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House Ltd., London, in 2016.
Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
The Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress.
Vintage Books Trade Paperback ISBN 9780525432159
Ebook ISBN 9780525432166
Cover design by John Gall
Cover photograph © Sara Appelgren
To Eva Bergman
This book is also dedicated to the memory of the baker Terentius Neo and his wife, whose name we don’t know. Their faces can be seen in a fresco painting at their house in Pompeii.
Two people in the prime of life. Their expressions are solemn, but they also appear to have a spiritual dimension. She is very beautiful, but looks unsure of herself. He gives the impression of modesty.
They seem to be two people who take their lives extremely seriously.
When the volcano erupted in AD 79, they can’t have had much time to grasp what was happening. They died there, in the middle of their lives, buried underneath the ash and the glowing lava.
Don’t be ashamed because you are a human being, be proud! Inside you is an endless series of strong rooms, one after the other. You never come to an end, and that is how it should be.
Tomas Tranströmer, ‘Romanesque Arches,’
For the Living and the Dead
About the Author and Translator
Also by Henning Mankell
PART I: THE CROOKED FINGER
1 The car accident
2 People reluctantly on their way into the shadows
3 The great discovery
5 The future is hidden underground
6 The bubble in the glass
7 Last will and testament
8 The man in the window
9 Hagar Qim
10 The lion man
12 Turning time in a different direction
13 A journey into the nether regions
14 The young medical student
15 A magician and an imposter
16 A dream about a muddy trench in Flanders
17 The caves
18 The floating rubbish dump
20 The raft of death
21 All this forgotten love
23 A different archive
24 The courage to be afraid
26 The hippos
27 A cathedral and a cloud of dust
PART II: THE ROAD TO SALAMANCA
29 Luminous teeth
31 The way out
32 Paris in flames, 1348
33 How long is eternity?
34 Room number 1
35 The road to Salamanca, Part 1
36 The man who dismounted from his horse
37 While the child plays
39 The awakening according to Plato
40 Winter night
42 Getting lost
43 The road to Salamanca, Part 2
PART III: THE PUPPET ON A STRING
44 The earth floor
45 Moving silently from darkness to darkness
46 Mantova and Buenos Aires
47 The stupid bird
48 Who will be there in the end to listen?
49 Salt water
50 The buffalo with eight legs
51 The secret of cave painters revealed
52 The happiness brought by a rickety lorry in the spring
54 A visit when something both begins and ends
55 The woman with the sack of cement
56 A winter in Heraklion
57 Catastrophe on a German motorway
58 Jealousy and shame
59 The twenty-eighth day
60 Meeting in an amphitheatre
61 A thief and a policeman
63 The dead body on the bench for the accused
64 A violent north-westerly storm
65 A fictitious meeting in a park in Vienna, 1913
66 The puppet on a string
67 Never being robbed of one’s happiness
THE CROOKED FINGER
The car accident
Early in the morning of 16 December 2013 Eva Drove me to the Statoil depot in Kungsbacka, where I collected the car I had hired. I was going to drive to Vallåkra, just outside Landskrona, and back. The car was due to be returned that same evening. The following day I would be busy signing copies of my latest novel in bookshops in Gothenburg and Kungsbacka as part of the pre-Christmas publicity programme.
The wintry morning was freezing cold, but there was no rain or snow. The drive would take me three hours if I stopped for breakfast on the outskirts of Varberg, as was my wont.
The head of my theatre in Maputo – Manuela Soeiro, with whom I had now been working for thirty years – was visiting Sweden. This was to be the first real meeting concerning the production we were planning to stage the following autumn. Manuela was staying with Eyvind, who was going to direct the version of Hamlet I had been thinking about virtually all the years I had been working at the Teatro Avenida.
It had struck me very early on that Hamlet was ideal for adapting as a drama about an African king – the fact is that something very similar to the plot of Hamlet actually took place in a part of southern Africa in the nineteenth century. My idea was that at the end of the play when everybody is dead and Fortinbras comes onstage, he would be the white man who arrives to start colonising Africa on a serious scale. I therefore thought it would be logical to allow Fortinbras to conclude the play with the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy.
If you are going to perform Hamlet, you must have an actor who can play the part in the way you envisage it – and now we had just the man. Jorginho would be able to do it. He had developed significantly over the last few years, and he was also then best of all the actors when it came to the way he approached the language. It was a case of now or never.
As I drove through Halland I found myself looking forward to the coming day. I was filled with great expectations.
The roads further south were dry, although it was very cloudy and overcast. I wasn’t driving all that fast, unusually for me – I had given them an arrival time and I didn’t want to get there too early.
Then suddenly it all happens very quickly. Just north of Laholm I pull out into the outside lane in order to overtake a slow-moving lorry. Somewhere on the road surface is a patch of something, possibly oil: I start skidding and lose control, the car crashes head-on into the central barrier and the airbags inflate. I black out for a second or two.
When I come to, I sit there in silence for a while. What has happened? I feel around to make sure I am still in one piece. I’m not injured, I’m not bleeding. Then I get out. Cars have stopped and people are running towards me. I tell them I’m OK, I’m not hurt.
I stand on the verge and telephone Eva. When she answers I make a point of trying to sound calm.
‘You can hear that it’s me,’ I say. ‘And that I’m all right.’
‘What’s happened?’ she asks immediately.
I tell her about the accident. I play down the crash, and insist that all is well. I don’t really know What’s going to happen next, but I’m fine. I don’t know if she believes me.
Then I telephone Vallåkra.
‘I’m afraid I shan’t be coming,’ I say. ‘I’ve crashed into the central barrier on the road just outside Laholm. I’m not injured. But the car’s a total write-off.’
The police arrive. I blow into their bag but I’m completely sober. I describe the accident. While all this is happening the fire brigade tows away the car, presumably to the scrapheap. An ambulance driver asks if I want a lift to A & E just to be on the safe side. I say no as I am not in any pain at all.
The police drive me to the railway station in Laholm; half an hour later I’m on a train back to Gothenburg.
I still haven’t been to Vallåkra, and I never did the book signings there.
Without really knowing why, I date my cancer to that very day: 16 December 2013. There is no logic in doing so, of course. My tumours and metastases must have been growing for some considerable time. Nor did I have any symptoms or other indications on that particular day.
It was more of a warning. Something was happening.
A week later, just before Christmas, Eva and I went to our little flat in Antibes, on the Mediterranean coast. In the morning of Christmas Eve I was woken up by pains in my neck and a general feeling of stiffness. I thought I must have been stupid enough to lie in an awkward position and given myself a twisted neck – what the doctors call torticollis.
But the pain didn’t go away. Instead, it spread quickly down my right arm. I lost all feeling in the thumb of my right hand. And it hurt. In the end I rang an orthopaedic specialist in Stockholm I was lucky enough to get hold of despite the fact that almost everybody was on holiday for Christmas. I went back to Sweden and he examined me on 28 December. He thought it could well be early signs of a slipped disc at the top of my spine, but of course it was not possible to say without a scan, which we agreed I should have as soon as the Christmas holidays were over.
The 8th of January dawned. It was a cold morning, and snowing lightly. I thought it was high time to get the slipped disc diagnosis confirmed. I was still suffering severe neck pains. Strong painkillers helped, but that was only a stopgap measure. The slipped disc needed proper treatment.
Early in the morning I had two scans. Two hours later the torticollis and slipped disc theory had changed into a cancer diagnosis. I was shown a computer image of a cancerous tumour, three centimetres in diameter, in my left lung. And there was a metastasis in my neck. That was the cause of my pain.
The diagnosis was very clear: it was serious, possibly incurable. I asked hesitantly if that meant I should go home and wait for the end.
‘Not long ago that would have been our advice,’ said the doctor. ‘But now we have treatment options.’
Eva was with me at the Sophiahem when I was informed of the situation. Afterwards, as we stood outside in the cold winter weather waiting for a taxi, we didn’t have much to say. We probably didn’t say anything at all, in fact.
But I saw a little girl jumping up and down in a snowdrift, full of joy and energy.
I saw myself, as a child, jumping around in the snow. Now I was sixty-five years old and had been diagnosed with cancer. I was not jumping around.
It was as if Eva had read my thoughts. She took a firm grip of my arm.
As we drove away in the taxi the little girl was still jumping up and down in her snowdrift.
Today, as I write this on 18 June, one could say that the time that has passed since then was both lengthy and short.
I am unable to write a full stop – neither after a fatal outcome nor a declaration that I am healthy again. I am in the middle of something. There is no conclusion as yet.
But this is what I have been through and what I have experienced. The story does not have an ending. It is ongoing.
That is what this book is about. My life. What has been, and what is.
People reluctantly on their way into the shadows
Two days after the car crash I paid a visit to Släp Church, which is close to where I live on the coast, just north
It is a family portrait. Years before photography was invented, people with sufficient means used to commission oil paintings. This picture depicts the vicar Gustaf Fredrik Hjortberg and his wife Anna Helena and their children – all fifteen of them. The picture was painted at the beginning of the 1770s when Gustaf Hjortberg was in his fifties. He died a few years later, in 1776.
It is possible that he was the person who introduced potatoes into Sweden on a serious scale.
What is striking and remarkable about the picture, and perhaps also frightening, is that it doesn’t only depict the individuals who were alive when the artist Jonas Durchs started work on the project: he also painted the children who were already dead. Their brief visit to this earth was over, but it was felt they should be in the family portrait even so.
The picture is constructed in a way that was normal at the time: the boys – both the living and the dead – are gathered around their father on the left of the picture, while the girls are standing around their mother on the right.
Those who are alive are looking at the observer – there are quite a lot of modest, perhaps shy smiles. But the dead children’s faces are half averted from the observer, or partly hidden behind the backs of the living. All that is visible of one of the dead boys is his forehead and one eye. He gives the impression of trying desperately to make his presence felt.
In a cradle beside the mother is a small child, half hidden. Girls are hovering vaguely in the background. There seem to be six dead children in all.
It is as if time has stood still in the painting. Just as is the case in a photograph.
Gustaf Hjortberg was one of Linnaeus’s disciples, although he was never outstanding in any way. He made at least three voyages with the East India Company to China as the ship’s chaplain. Also depicted in the painting is a globe of the world, and a lemur. Hjortberg is holding a sheet of paper in his hand, covered in writing. We are in the presence of an educated and sophisticated family. Gustaf Hjortberg lived and died in accordance with the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment. He also had a reputation of being well versed in medicine – people went on pilgrimages to Släp in order to receive advice and be healed.
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