Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: The Man From Beijing

The Man From Beijing

I learned of Wallander way back in 2010 when we used to watch the Killing. 

The Killing - Season 1-3 - Series Trailer

It was then that a friend told me about another TV show, also based on a Swedish television series. 

Wallander - Trailer - BBC One

And that led me to some knowledge of the Kurt Wallander series, written by Henning Mankell.

But, somehow, it was only recently that I actually saw any book of this author and that was at the local library. And there was only the last of the series, The Troubled Man. I'd read a review which claimed that this was not the best of the lot and, thus, I had a look at the few other Mankells on the shelf.

As I'm into Asian authors at the moment and as I was a bit curious about how the Chinese were perceived by a Swedish author, I picked up The Man From Beijing.

It started out quite well. What better atmosphere to read about in an exceptionally hot summer at Pune than the first chapter of the book! Scandinavian forests in deep winter. A lone wolf. Famished. Where is it headed? Why is it alone?

But, alas, we do not follow the wolf's journey farther than the outskirts of a hamlet. The wolf finds some gruesome remains and, thenceforth, it vanishes into the icy wastes as quickly as Mankell's ability to keep a tight grip on plot and structure.

After the brief wolf interlude, hope continues to linger as we discover a massacre and the body count rises. The police enter the picture.

And then the novel rapidly depreciates into a hypocritical self depreciating portrait of a near perfect European society where there appears to be zero gender discrimination, where folks seem to live on into their nineties in significant numbers, and other such "good life" index satisfiers. The only flies in this far from balmy ointment are people of colour - the blacks and, more pertinently to the book, the yellows. Apparently, as I see in another of Mankell's works - The Shadow Girls - he has the impression that we, the others of colour, go green with envy at the prosperity of the "West".

Perhaps it is his secret intention to dissuade us from what the world is convinced is our sole goal in life - to get into the lands of the White Man at any and every cost. For he portrays this El Dorado in gloomy shades. Almost everyone is ailing. No great joy is depicted.

On the other hand, although he seems to wring his hands over the cruelty of colonialism, he has surely a paranoia about people of colour. In a court, over which the protagonist presides, most of the criminals are from Muslim countries or from Vietnam or other such places.

Of course, we shall deal with China in this novel. And then it's a wild orgy of Tintin: The Blue Lotus and The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu. Velly velly amusing!

The Chinese, we learn, are vengeful. They can harbour resentment over the course of centuries. And, when they decide to take revenge, nothing simple will do. If for nothing else, I'd read the book for the concept of killing someone with powdered glass poured into their drink.

Forget the people of that nationality - the nation itself and its policies are viewed with a very jaundiced eye. I have no doubt that, since most of us are thoroughly brainwashed by the so-called global media and many of us have not outlived the aftermath of colonialism, there will be a huge number who will applaud Mankell's idea of China's evil plans for Africa, in the near future, and for world dominion as ultimate aim (shades of Fu Manchu).

My own biliousness apart, it's not a bad read - rather rambling and somewhat here and there to one who had but recently finished Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X.

I'm wading through my second Mankell and hope to entertain you with a review on that soon but, alas, I'm no nearer a Wallander to add to my belt. And it's a troubling thought that I'll have to settle for The Troubled Man.
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