The Swedes and ‘The Other’: Henning Mankell

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Author: Kerstin Bergman
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,071 words

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[(essay date 2014) In the following essay, Bergman examines Mankell’s treatment of otherness in The Return of the Dancing Master, Kennedys hjärna (2005; Kennedy’s Brain), and the Wallander novel The Troubled Man. According to Bergman, Mankell attempts to illuminate and critique Sweden’s Nazi past, its stereotyping of Africa and Africans, and its xenophobia. At the same time, Bergman proposes, Mankell also upholds and reinforces conventional notions of “the Other.”]

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was common practice in Swedish crime fiction to bring in villains from the Mediterranean or from some made-up Latin American republic. However, from the 1930s until the early 1960s, the foreign villains and crime syndicates were no longer regarded as credible and almost disappeared from the genre.1 Then, in the 1960s, international criminality started reappearing, even though home-grown criminals still dominated. In the 1990s and early 2000s, however, it has been increasingly common to let organized crime originate from the former Soviet republics or have ties to the republics of former Yugoslavia.2 However, villains are not the only representatives of the Other in crime fiction, and, furthermore, any discussions of the relationship to the Other have become increasingly more complex in Swedish crime fiction in recent decades.

Sweden is located in the far north of Europe and is a country with vast open spaces, large natural resources, and few inhabitants. While the northern part of the nation is home to the indigenous Sami people, among others, most of the (by now) nine and a half million Swedes live in the southern regions of the country. Sweden has not been actively involved in a war since 1809, when the last war with Russia ended. Throughout history, there has always been immigration to Sweden; for centuries people have moved there to take advantage of work opportunities, in order to escape political oppression or ethnic cleansing in other parts of the world, and for numerous other reasons. Swedes have also always been keen travellers, from the escapades of the Vikings during the Middle Ages, the world explorations of the disciples of Swedish botanist Carl von Linné (1707-78) in the second half of the eighteenth century, and the mass emigration to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, to modern-day educational and recreational travels. Nevertheless, throughout the twentieth century, the Swedish population in many respects remained relatively homogenous and, it was only towards the turn of the Millennium, that large numbers of foreign migrants began to enter the country and that xenophobia became an increasing problem in Sweden—as in many other parts of Europe and the world.

Crime fiction is a genre prone to address and discuss contemporary issues. Despite crime novels often being read primarily for entertainment purposes, Jeanne E Glesener argues that ‘in the age of multiculturalism they have become a platform where multicultural issues and realities are being explored,’ and where ‘the vexed and complicated relationship between different cultures does not only get [sic.] illustrated but...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100122763