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on 22 April 2008
The novel juxtaposes the bereft childhood of Hans Olofson
in rural Sweden,abandoned by his mother and brought up by an
alcoholic father-with his subsequent life as a egg farmer in
Zambia.The picture of Africa described is sinister,corrupt,
violent,racist and superstitious as Hans endeavours to come
to terms with both the Africa he finds and himself.This is a
fine psychological thriller,that is far more than a white man
in Africa tale,as it journeys into the depths of Hans'mind
with considerable acuity.
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on 2 August 2017
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on 7 December 2010
I chose this book because I have read, and previously enjoyed, books by Henning Mankell - particularly the Wallander series. I knew that this was going to be a different experience but I trusted that Mankell would deliver a taut and sensitive piece of writing, which in my opinion he has done.

However, it doesn't seem right to say that I enjoyed this book because it is profoundly depressing. Our protagonist, Hans Olofson, has had a lonely and isolated childhood, abandoned by his mother and brought up by a father who is employed as a lumberjack but who would prefer to be at sea. The community in which they live is small, but Hans and his father exist on the edge and ultimately there is very little to hold him there. The trip to Africa is to fulfil the dream of a close friend of his adolescence (someone who also lives on the edge of the community). Arriving in Africa without any preconceptions and ideals, he serves as a blank canvas on which Mankell can portray the dark and ugly side of corruption in Africa and amongst the Swedish aid agencies.

I think that this would make an excellent book club read because there is so much within it that could be discussed - and perhaps much that ought to be discussed. If I was to recommend it to a friend, I would pick a friend who had a lively interest in the affairs of the world and who would appreciate a novelists attempt to portray ugly realities through the vehicle of a novel.
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on 26 August 2013
Following an unsettled youth in Sweden, Hans Olofson travels to a remote corner of Zambia to fulfill the dream of a former girlfriend whom he had deserted. While there, a passing acquaintance offers him a job managing her egg farm. Impressed by the loyalty of the white farmers to each other, he commits to staying a few months, is inveigled into staying two years, and when later offered the chance of buying the farm ends up staying twenty years.

Disgusted by the way the white farmers exploit their native workers, Hans vows to bring democracy and progress to his farm, but this proves far harder than it looks. Through Asian and native African contacts - the latter including his ever-dignified manservant, a journalist, a witch doctor working on his farm, and a widow with three daughters - he gradually learns how the natives think and how they view the white colonials, including himself. He is shocked when, amid growing political tensions, his earliest friends are butchered on their farm, but strives to find and understand the motive behind the attack. Despite his benevolence to his workers, he too is soon the target of the mysterious terrorists, and eventually succumbs to the pressure to quit the country.

This African story is gripping. As a tale of the clash of cultures it is very instructive (I am no expert here), and reminds me of E M Forster's "A Passage to India." Although at times it seems politically skewed towards the natives, its realism is startling, a rude contrast to the romance of "Out of Africa."

What keeps this book from being perfect is the structure. The above highly enjoyable and well-written African adventure is interleaved with Hans' earlier life in Sweden. This is not so well written. There are a few good passages, such as a tragic boyhood dare to traverse the high girders of a bridge, but also many boring ones, such as page-long pointless arguments with his father. I could not see any psychological link between the two stories, viz how his earlier life moulded his actions in Africa. Without such a link, there seems to me no good reason for interleaving the two stories, or in fact for including the Swedish story at all. Nor did I understand why Hans abandoned his first and then his second girlfriends. Possibly guilt over the tragedy at the bridge, and later over his first girlfriend's suicide, but this was not clear to me.

Also irritating was an occasional pretentiousness in the writing, such as "the arc of time" and "does time have a face?" This detracted from the realism generated by the otherwise "deadpan narrative and spare prose" (The Spectator).

The African story could easily stand alone, and would be far more enjoyable without the frustrating intrusion of the weaker Swedish story. Mankell makes the same literary mistake, of spoiling a good story by mixing it with a bad one, in "The Man from Beijing" where a gripping murder-mystery and its investigation is adulterated by a confusing and ultimately boring historical interlude of 200 plus pages.

Outside of the Wallander novels, I think Mankell's best works are "Depths" and "Italian Shoes."
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on 15 November 2009
The Eye of the Leopard

Hans Olofson leaves his native Sweden to travel to Africa to fulfil the dream of another, Janine, `the noseless one'.

With each recurrent malarial bout, and the accompanying fevers and hallucinations, he takes us back to his life in Sweden, with a drunken father, a missing mother, his childhood friend, Sture, with whom he is fiercely competitive just once too often; and of course Janine, who is a source of fascination for both boys.

In Africa, a chance meeting with Ruth and Werner Masterton leads to him settling in Africa, initially as a temporary manager for Judith Fillington on her egg farm. When he takes over the farm he decides to lessen the huge divide between white and black, being more generous with pay and conditions for his workers. This does not have the results that he had hoped for.

Black violence escalates and you can feel his fear, which initially sounded like the neurosis of his malarial episodes, but later becomes fully justified.

Well written, you can really feel the deprivations, the misunderstandings, and the sheer terror.
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on 9 August 2009
This is the first book I have read by this author and I understand he is better known for his series of detective books (Inspector Wallender). Perhaps arriving without that background was an advantage, because I found this to be a marvellous book combining plenty of opportunity for reflection with attention-grabbing action. The story is of a young Swede who begins by asking himself the question why he is who he is and not somebody else. This moment of self-realisation is the start of his search for meaning within the set of circumstances which form his life. The plot is built up in parallel between his life in rural Sweden and his adult life in Africa. The struggles he faces in adapting his principles to his practical situation as an employer of 200 people in Zambia, the changing balance of power between ethnic groups and above all the completely different way of looking at life from the African and European perspective all provide opportunities for challenging questions, whilst keeping an exciting pace to the book throughout. Perhaps it is as the tension mounts that the author best combines his thriller writing with this ability to pose questions. At times the scenario is a little tired, for example the view of missionaries in Africa reads as dated, but the fundamental nature of the many questions posed throughout this exciting novel overcomes these minor flaws.
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on 8 April 2011
Lets make it clear, if you are looking for a detective/Wallander story, then this book isnt for you. However it is an excellent read.

There are some particularly good reviews here that give you more of the background to the characters, so I wont duplicate, other than to suggest that you read them.

Is there a greater contrast of life than the move from Sweden to Zambia? This is what makes the book so interesting. The picture of Zambia is a dark and frankly depressing one. I suspect though that reality was close to the description, so its no criticism of the country or its people, but just how extraordinarily different are the cultures of the west and of Zambia (Africa as a whole?), and how the cultures manifestly distrust each other, why this is so, and how they react to each other.

The effects of malaria, endemic corruption (it is stated in the book that the corruption in Sweden is just more subtle, although not discussed in detail), racism, mutual distrust, loneliness, superstition, bloody violence and subsequent fear create a tense thriller, described as "psychological". It certainly makes you think, and want to ask many questions. Maybe it helps one understand the dark continent? Certainly it is thought provoking. Actually, its a scary (315 page) story.
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on 7 May 2016
I couldn't make up my mind whether this was pure fiction or autobiographical. It sure meanders here and there, sometimes as a dream and often recollections. Africa came across as a laid back poverty stricken country. A couple of comedic moments, I am cursing myself for reading up to page 184. I seem to be in a rut: unable to select a book that suits me.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 7 January 2009
'He wakes in the African night, convinced that his body has split in two'.

Hans Olofson, lies wracked with malarial fever in the opening of this novel, terrified that his African employees, or bandits, or both, will murder him. This is a bleak novel, a Heart of Darkness novel, alternating chapters of Olofson growing up in cold Sweden with chapters of his progression to middle-age on an egg farm in Zambia.

If you're looking for the latest Kurt Wallander then keep looking. For me, this is no `psychological thriller' either but an exploration of two different cultures and the mess that colonialism has caused in Africa. Olofson hears of an African legend that at the end of the world only two creatures will survive; the leopard and the crocodile, these two craftiest animals will fight each other for ever - or until rebirth.

That is the lasting image of fighting black and white in Mankell's Zambia - together with corruption, violence, distrust, poverty, the impossibility of redemption though foreign aid or any other means.
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2010
In The Eye of the Leopard Henning Mankell offers the reader a great sense of place. The book switches from Sweden to Zambia and we get a great contrast between both countries.

After a difficult childhood Hans Olofson sets out for Africa. He is going to visit the grave of a missionary that his friend Janine had told him about. While only expecting to be in Zambia a short time, things conspire against him and he ends up running a farm and is there twenty years. In Sweden Hans had felt alienated but in Africa things are even worse. He is shocked by the way the whites treat the natives but when he tries to work cooperatively with them things fall apart. He is surrounded by corruption and always seems to lose out on every deal.

As Hans is struck with bouts of malaria he becomes more and more delusional -his terror is real but we are uncertain how justified this is.

Very tense and gripping - but all a bit depressing.
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