cover image Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being

Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being

Henning Mankell. Vintage, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-43215-9

This final volume from Mankell—the Swedish dramatist, theater director, and creator of the bestselling Kurt Wallander novels (and many other books)—includes 67 short essays written in the last two years of his life; he was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 65 and died in 2015. His intelligent eye focuses on predictable topics such as chemotherapy, but he also reflects on art that moves him (a deeply human interpretation of Géricault’s La Méduse, for example), the environment, and social justice, which is the major theme of his life’s work (he calls the developed world’s refusal to eliminate abject poverty “criminal”). He explains that he wrote about crime “because it illustrates more clearly than anything else the contrasts that form the basis of human life.” Just as morality is a major theme, so is mortality. In the essay that gives the book its title, Mankell writes of a childhood fear of “death by quicksand,” and how his cancer rekindled “that same feeling of terror.” But a few weeks after his diagnosis, he realizes that death need not induce panic or resignation, and he notes near the end of this elegant, unflinching volume, “I live in anticipation of new uplifting experiences.” (Jan.)