August 2008

A Swedish writer’s lyrical tale

By Henning Mankell
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Many American readers have recently discovered Swedish writer Henning Mankell, whose novels about Inspector Kurt Wallander have already become bestsellers worldwide. Now, fans of Mankell’s adult books have an equally exciting, but very different, set of stories to share with their children. Although Mankell’s children’s novels featuring Joel Gustafson are not mysteries, they do share the same thoughtful introspection and perceptive, deliberate character development that have drawn so many adults to his other books.

Shadows in the Twilight is the second novel featuring Joel Gustafson, but it can easily be enjoyed by those who have not read its predecessor, A Bridge to the Stars. Joel, who’s about to turn 12, lives with his father Samuel in northern Sweden in 1957. His mother disappeared years ago, and Joel doesn’t even remember her. Joel, a lonely, quiet boy, fills his days by solving puzzles, caring for his father and interacting with their eccentric neighbors; he has few friends his own age and complains to his father that nothing ever happens in their sleepy little town.

That is, until Joel narrowly escapes being killed by a bus speeding down the main street in town. Convinced that he’s been visited by a genuine Miracle, Joel believes that he must now do a good deed for someone to express his gratitude to Providence.

Readers accustomed to the frenetic writing style of much recent American fiction for young people will need time to adjust to Mankell’s leisurely, lyrical storytelling. By taking his time to tell Joel’s story, however, Mankell allows readers to really get to know Joel, his father and their small town. Joel is portrayed with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, and his complex, realistic relationships with adults are unusual in children’s books, which tend to focus more on peer group dynamics. These intriguing elements make Joel’s story one that children and adults will enjoy reading and discussing together – thereby broadening this talented Swedish author’s reach even more.

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Shadows in the Twilight

Shadows in the Twilight

By Henning Mankell
ISBN 9780385734967

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