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Mozambican theater commemorates Swedish author Mankell

October 15, 2015

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, a Mozambican friend said, lived with “one foot in the snow and one foot in the sand,” splitting his time between Sweden and Mozambique.

Mankell, who died Oct. 5 after a battle with cancer, is known globally for his novels about the morose police inspector Kurt Wallander. He was remembered in Mozambique this week for how he immersed himself in a country struggling to recover from war, directing theater and helping charitable causes.

A Mozambican woman who lost her legs in a mine blast when she was a child and later got help from Mankell joined a memorial service Monday in the capital Maputo at Teatro Avenida, where the Swede was artistic leader, according to people who were at the event.

The German and Swedish ambassadors, and Mozambique’s culture minister, attended the tribute. So did Mia Couto, a prominent Mozambican author who described how his friend “divided his life” between Sweden and Mozambique.

Couto said Mankell was more than a writer, not just collecting stories on travels around Mozambique but also getting involved, helping to build a village for orphaned children in Chimoio, a provincial capital.

“He was participating in the process,” Couto said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Mozambique’s war against Portuguese colonizers ended with independence in 1975, but civil war followed until a peace deal in 1992. The country shed a legacy of conflict last month when it announced that all known land mines had been removed with the help of international partners. Today, the economy is growing fast, although Mozambique remains very poor.

Mankell first went to Africa in the early 1970s and settled part-time in Mozambique in the 1980s.

Departing from the Wallander series, he based some novels in Africa, exploring poverty and other social challenges through characters and settings.

“Chronicler of the Winds” focuses on the turbulent story of an African street child dying of gunshot wounds after being found at a theater. Another novel, “A Treacherous Paradise,” explores racial divisions through the story of a Swedish woman who becomes a brothel owner in Mozambique under colonial rule.

Some people became emotional during the presentations at the Teatro Avenida memorial, said Philipp Schauer, the German ambassador. The event also celebrated Mankell with song, poetry, dance and theatrical performance.

“I think his personal engagement was something that made him very special here,” said Irina Schoulgin Nyoni, Sweden’s ambassador.

An edition this week of Noticias, a Mozambican newspaper, carried a large photograph of Mankell and the headline: “Eternal Gratitude.”

Couto said he and Mankell had been planning to produce a book that would be “a kind of conversation between two persons from different parts of the world,” an exchange of letters between them on matters including politics and the subconscious.

“He was a believer in dreams,” Couto said. “It was a way of knowing, a way of touching the world.”

Couto said he was assessing what to do with the material and would speak with Mankell’s family about it.

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