Sunday, November 01, 2009

Children’s Books Shadow of the Leopard by Henning Mankell

Internationally bestselling author Henning Mankell talks about the first time he met Sofia. He was in Mozambique in the early 1990s. Passing a hospital, he spied a small girl in a wheelchair and he stopped to talk with her. “I still don’t know why,” he says on his blog.

Though Sofia’s story didn’t come to him all at once, he was able to piece it together over time. Sofia and her sister had been running at the side of a road when a landmine was detonated. Sofia’s sister died instantly. Sofia herself suffered many injuries. And Mankell, ultimately, was compelled to tell her story.
Today, many years later, Sofia is one of my closest and dearest friends. No one has taught as much as she about the conditions of being human. Nor has anyone taught me more about poor people's unprecedented power of resistance. Those who are forced to survive at the bottom of society in a world we all share and inhabit; so unjust, brutal and unnecessary.
Though Mankell is best known for his Curt Wallander novels, his books for children are very, very good and, in his own country, extremely admired. Three books into his Sofia series (after Playing With Fire and Secrets in the Fire) Sofia is a young woman of 20 with two children of her own and another on the way. Her domestic challenges turn life-threatening when her ex-partner drags her into the savannah and leaves her to die.

Shadow of the Leopard (Annick Press) is classified as a children’s book, but I’m not entirely sure why. Though the young adult readers this book is intended for will certainly enjoy it, adults will also be compelled by Sofia’s story and Mankell’s commanding voice.

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