At the end of the day, Swedish writer Henning Mankell considers himself just a “storyteller”. His most popular protagonist is, of course, Kurt Wallander, that somewhat moody and diabetic detective, operating out of the southern town of Ystad in Sweden.
Wallander’s adventures, read across the world, are not just limited to small town police procedurals though, his work often tackling seething xenophobia, crimes against immigrants or the activities of neo-Nazis in Sweden."Crime can always be a way of explaining how society evolves and develops," Mankell says, somewhat dishevelled after his long flight to Delhi. "In that sense, I am a storyteller and a political writer. Our most compelling and popular works of literature, whether Shakespeare’s Macbeth, or Euripides’ Medea, are essentially crime stories," says the 62-year-old writerbefore going off to Jaipur.
Ancient Greek drama and the Mahabharata (a Swedish version of which was adapted on stage by his wife Eva Bergman, daughter of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman), two sources from where he draws inspiration, also deal with crime, whether it is war and peace, or the war between individuals.
So what makes the bleak, chilly and desolate Swedish landscape the breeding ground of detective fiction, if one keeps in mind the popularity of his compatriot Stieg Larsson? “It is nothing more than a coincidence,” Mankell says, though admitting that there might be a narrative tradition in the Nordic countries to use crime as a mirror to understand human drama.
He does not begrudge Wallander his popularity. “A writer cannot have any stepchildren, or prefer one child over the other,” he says, though Wallander may have acted as a “locomotive” for popularising his other works. “After all, the main character is myself, whether I am a man, woman or child.”