What sucks of getting older, is that the more people you get to know, the more losses and terrible news you are likely to face. And this is also true for artists you get to grow attached to, who fill your life with discoveries and contribute to make you a rich person with their work. It is very sad, but as time goes by, you have to say good-bye to more and more people. I strongly believe the only way to sort of live with the idea that death is part of our lives, is to pay tributes, give a proper farewell and keep the memory of the person alive.
Four days ago Henning Mankell passsed away. It came as a total shock for me because I had not been reading about him recently, so I did not know he was sick. And besides the fact that he was still young and it is sad to see someone going at that age, I felt particularly touched and moved because I had met Mr Mankell in person and had had with him one of the most interesting and meaningful conversations ever. So by remembering that precious moment, I want to pay my personal tribute to a man who was much more than the creator of detective Kurt Wallander.
I had discovered Mr Mankell by pure chance. My mother had left one of his books (Firewall) at my place, and I started reading it. That was the beginning of my romance with Kurt Wallander. I read all of his stories, and greatly enjoyed them. I remember that when I discovered that Mr Mankell spent half a year in his native Sweden, and the rest in Mozambique, I thought it would have been very interesting to interview him for Expatclic. But of course he was very famous, and we were a humble website, so I did not do anything to get in touch with the editor.
While I was living in Jerusalem, Mr Mankell participated in the 2010 Palestinian Literature Festival, and I thought I would give it a try. Imagine my excitement when the organisers replied my message, saying that Mr Mankell agreed to meet me! The day before the interview, I was a wreck. I suddenly realised I was going to meet a worldwide known author, and who was I to summon him and interview him?
We met at the American Colony Hotel, where he was staying with his wife Eva Bergman, daughter of the great Swedish director. I still remember vividly how I felt when I entered the lobby and saw he was sitting there. I thought he was huge, and he reinforced the impression by standing up to shake my hand when he saw me and understood that I was looking for him. We sat down and I tried to control the panic because he was cold, unsmiling and asked me straightaway “what do you want to know?”. I did not know, or better, I could not formulate it. So I started by telling him a bit about myself and about Expatclic, and why we were interested in his story. The rest came very naturally. We started talking about Africa, and all the pieces of the puzzles went together – I actually realised that THAT was the part of Mr Mankell’s life I was interested in and wanted to share on the website.
It was a great conversation. He let his defenses down and we compared our experiences. He shared lots of moments spent in Mozambique, and strongly made me feel his motivation in working hard to promote art in Africa. The part of the conversation which I still vividly remember, and that I recorded in the interview, is this:
[…]One day I was visiting a village near Kampala where lots of people were dying of AIDS, and while I was talking to some people, I saw a little girl hanging around – I had the feeling she wanted to talk to me. She kept a very small book pressed to her chest, and when we finally got together, I realized that she wanted to show it to me. I took it and I opened it, and in between the pages I saw a pressed blue butterfly. And the girl said: “I had a mother who loved blue butterflies”. This is probably one of the most important books I have read in my life. I understood that you can tell who you are in many different ways. There I saw an astonishing example of how desperately this dying parent was trying to convey something of her to her child.[…]
I was so moved. I really had a knot in my throat because while he was talking, I pictured that little girl hanging around this giant of a man and badly wanting to show him the book, and the pain and powerlessness I had so many times felt in Africa suddenly became vivid again.
While we were talking, an elegant lady approached him and showed surprise and delight in seeing him. He stood up and greeted her, exchanging a few words. Then he sat down again and putting a hand on the tape recorder, he told me she was a prominent Israeli intellectual, and they regularly met when he came to Palestine and fought for hours, in never-ending discussions about the political situation. Mr Mankell was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. After the Literature Festival, he went on one of the boats that formed the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in an attempt to break the illegal blockade of the strip. The flotilla became sadly famous because its largest vessel, the Mavi Marmara, was attacked by the Israeli, and nine people on board lost their lives.
We lost much more than the creator of a successful private investigator. We lost a man who fought for just causes, who did not only use words to honor his values, but physically engaged to be present where he thought human beings might need him the most. You can find out about his work in Africa on his website. Honoring his memory also means knowing what he was fighting for, what he devoted his life to, and continue where he cannot.
Thank you Mr Mankell, and rest in peace.