Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Book Review: Vindens son av Henning Mankell

Henning Mankell (wikipedia) is famous for his excellent books about the Swedish criminal detective Kurt Wallander, an overweight, slightly depressed, and disillusioned police man in southern Sweden. If you haven't read those books, do it!

This book however is about something completely different. I read it during my trip to Ecuador, and it takes place across the world in southern Africa and in Sweden, in the late 1800s. A failed young Swedish scientist travels to Namibia to collect insects, especially new species, to finally become famous and be someone at home. While in Africa he adopts a young African boy from the Kalahari desert, who he brings home to Sweden and teaches Swedish. There is a string of sadness through the whole book - of course the boy is miserable, and Sweden is full of racism and discrimination. The scientist is also unbalanced and the book does not have a happy ending. But it is a good book. The book is being translated into English, will be titled The Son of the Wind, and will be released in 2012 (why does it take 5 years to translate it?).

My only main problem with the story is that Mankell could have done a little more research into how taxonomy and systematics is done. First of all, people that work with insects are entomologists, and do not get degrees in botany. Second, it has been considered bad practice to name a species after yourself for hundreds of years, and this simply isn't done, but this is one of the premises for the book. Finally, finding new species, especially in the late 1800s, was easy. You don't have to travel to Africa to do it, and probably the worst place to find one would be in the Kalahari desert. Go to any rain forest and you find dozens of new species, especially insects. In the 1800s new species were reported by the thousands every year, and still is. A new species isn't really a big deal (says someone that has described a few). Mankell should have done a little more research and talked to some taxonomists. But the book is a good read and he describes the poverty and misery of the lower class in Sweden very well.

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