Henning Mankell is at it again. This time it’s a tale of slavery between America and Asia, with the far-reaching ramifications of certain acts only manifesting themselves after a century. A tiny hamlet in Sweden wakes up to find its inhabitants brutally massacred in the middle of the night. The police are called in, but crimes of this sort are exceedingly rare in Sweden. The lead investigator is understandably flummoxed, but she is a stern woman and perseveres against all odds, in the face of this unspeakable bloodletting. All the victims are related, either immediately or distantly, but have little in common beyond that. Unluckily for them, they have a distant descendant, a judge in Scania, who is both horrified and intrigued by the murder of almost her entire clan in one blow. It is this judge’s inquisitiveness that leads to the unraveling of this fantastic, barely-plausible plot.
She finds a diary in one of the houses, detailing the life of a distant relation who emigrated to the States, becoming, of all things, a foreman on the trans-continental railways that spanned the nascent North American nations. Her ancestor was a brutal man, one who killed the slaves who worked on the line mercilessly. We then see the lives of two Chinese peasants on the other side of the Pacific, who are kidnapped and taken across the seas to the US. Promised a land of golden opportunity, they soon see that they have exchanged a brutish and nasty life for one that can only be merciful when short. However, they are tough and survive against all hardships. After being emancipated, one of them dies, but one survives and vows to chronicle his hellish sufferings. His diary is found by his distant descendant, much the same way as the Swedish judge finds the repulsive diary of her racist ancestor.
Though the plot seems a bit far-fetched, it is but a vehicle for a marvellous telling of the next wave of imperialism currently taking place in Africa, vis a vis China. Both sides of the coin are explored: China as a big brother helping the former victims of imperialism come to their feet, and China as the subtle imperial aggressor, taking what she wants with nary a scant glance at the impoverished natives. No prizes for guessing which direction China is heading in. History is littered with the corpses of the defeated and once again, it will be the hapless Africans while the world stands by. The Swedish judge’s disillusionment with China’s changes and current leanings is a metaphor for the disappointment felt by intellectuals as they see the brutal wolf attack again, albeit guised as a red lamb this time. A great look into the foundation of any emerging superpower, i.e. exploitation.