I first encountered Henning Mankell through his Inspector Kurt Wallander crime fiction. Chronicler of the Winds, however, a fantasy that reminds me of Ben Okri‘s best works, is subtitled “A Novel of Africa.” I am always drawn to fictions in which the magical interrupts the prosaic and swerves between the two. Mankell weaves stories of extreme violence and pain into a narrative that is simultaneously nostalgic (in the best sense of that word; an ache for things that might have been) and emphatically optimistic. Fiction changes the world.
I picked up this book completely by chance at a local thrift shop and I had only slight hope that I would like it. The goddess of serendipity must have been watching my hand hovering over the titles.
The story structure is solid, as is the character construction, but the world Marks creates has surprised me with its sensitivity and perception. Here, we find true non-appropriating views of indigenous peoples and of sexuality and sexual preference.
It’s true, I think, that all literature (to greater or lesser effects) reflects the culture from which it stems–and therefore comments on that culture. One thing I really enjoy about fantasy and SF, for instance, is the way a novelist critiques our contemporary cultures (always plural for me). Such critiques make me reflect on my present world views well beyond the conclusion of the book.
Marks accomplishes such reflection and, furthermore, she has allowed me to appreciate her world when I entered by way of the second book in her series. I will get the others and let you know whether I find the whole as good as the fragment I’ve read.