Henning Mankell is known for his Wallander series, first as a series of books and recently as a PBS television show. A Swedish writer, who writes in his native language, Mankell reaches down to the the depths of human sadness in his police inspector Kurk Wallander, a man with a tentative and slim connection to life. Slovenly, unhappy, overweight, isolated and estranged; the only thing keeping him going is his work. We read and watch middle-aged Wallander’s anguish as he risks his life to solve crimes. That he is good at. He is a compelling man.
Now a departure in Italian Shoes, written in 2009. A slim book, our hero, Fredrik Welm is not a detective but a retired doctor living out his pension years on an isolated island in Sweden. He is 66 when we meet him. Welm was a successful Doctor for decades until 12 years ago, a career-ending tradgedy occured in the operating room. An incident he cannot forgive himself for. For years his only visitor to the island is Jansson who arrives by hydrocopter to deliver Welm’s non-existent mail and have the good Doctor check his non-existent ailments.
The ice is here to stay. It’s a hard winter this year, at the beginning of the new milennium. This morning, when I woke up in the December darkness, I thought I could hear the ice singing. I don’t know where I’ve got the idea from that ice can sing. Perhaps my grandfather, who was born here on this little island, told me about it when I was a small boy.
And so….. Welm, his dog and his cat expect another day just like the one before. Except….a vision on the ice of an old woman with a walker. Is she real? How did she get there? What should he do?
The visitor is Harriet, a woman Welm ditched at an airport 40 years ago. She is dying and she wants to take a journey with Welm. He cannot refuse her and so his steady, solitary life changes forever.
Mankell takes us on a physical and emotional journey to the bottom of a man’s soul and to the top of a hope for a different life. We waver between the two as does our hero Welm. Italian Shoes is a satisfying, compelling read, rich with descriptive language, a book you will want to savor. If you rush through, you might miss a plot-changing sentence. The eloquent English translation was done by Laurie Thompson.
The library has borrowed many copies for our members. Please plan on attending the book group on November 18 at either 1 pm or 7pm for a lively, rich discussion.