Daniel by Henning Mankell has a very clean, straightforward plot and I like that. It’s 1875 and Hans Bengler wants to be a famous entomologist. He decides to go to Africa to find an insect that hasn’t been discovered yet. In the Kalahari Desert he comes across a young orphaned boy and decides to adopt him and take him back to Sweden. He names him Daniel. The novel describes what happens when Daniel arrives in Sweden.
The result is a novel that deals with the clash between two cultures and an exploration of cross-cultural intelligence. I don’t feel too bad that virtually all Swedes come across like Neanderthals when it comes to cross-cultural intelligence – this is 1875 after all. And I did enjoy the observations and the sometimes profound analysis of Sweden as seen from the perspective of the young African boy.
This novel could have become a predictable story about a “noble savage” becoming corrupted when coming in contact with Western civilisation. However, even though the analysis and the acute observations are almost exclusively done by Daniel, there’s enough complexity in the story to make it a worthwhile read. And the world-view from the Kalahari Desert is fascinating.
I also like the fact that I don’t know where the plot is taking me. The narrative is not fast-paced – it’s not meant to be – but there are plenty of surprises along the way. And the pervasiveness of the desert – as a real place and as a metaphor – adds to the purity of the plot, and it energises the narrative.