Shadows in the Twilight by Henning Mankell

July 25, 2008
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Shadows in the Twilight
Henning Mankell

Delacorte Press
7/25/08
Hardcover/199 pages
ISBN: 0-3857349-6-4
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". . .wonderfully unaffected and fascinating."

Shadows in the Twilight: Growing up in a small town in Sweden.

 

Joel Gustafson is almost twelve years old. His mother, Jenny, left him and his father years ago, but Joel still thinks of her as his mum and not Sara, the buxom barmaid his father sees. Sara gives Joel two packs of pastilles, and he thinks he should stop by the bar and thank her. That’s when the Miracle happened. Now Joel must figure out a way to do a good deed so the Miracle isn’t taken away.

Joel decides he must help Gertrude No-Nose find a man. He chooses the rat catcher, David Lundgren, who looks like the man on the Kalle’s Caviar tin (the poor man’s caviar, not the real stuff). He writes two letters – one to Gertrude from the Caviar Man and one to David from Gertrude – and waits in the shadows to see what happens. He is disappointed and upset when David hides and makes fun of Gertrude when he sees she is his secret admirer. But Joel continues to try to get them together.

Henning Mankell draws a simple life for Joel, a life like any almost twelve year old boy’s in Shadows in the Twilight. Joel is poised on the precipice between childhood and adult. His life is full of fantasy, and he has a rich inner life that seems ordinary in Mankell’s neat and spare prose. From Gertrude No-Nose to Otto, the school bully, each character is a fascinating study of life in any small town, anywhere in the world. Shadows in the Twilight is full of laughter and insight with an ending that took me by surprise from the viewpoint of an unremarkably remarkable boy.

Mankell’s ability to see the world through Joel’s eyes without condescension or caricature makes Shadows in the Twilight wonderfully unaffected and fascinating.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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