Mankell writes so well that the reader can actually keep all of this straight. When all is said and done, THE MAN FROM BEIJING is not about international travel or politics (although Mankell writes reams about the politics and the economy of China). It is about two families and the collision of their lives in 19th century Nevada. Two brothers from China, San and Guo Si, are worked mercilessly by the Swedish supervisor of their crew, Jan August Andren. When San returns to China he begins to write every detail of his life. He doesn’t know if he will ever have someone in his family who will want to read it but he continues his task for the rest of his life.
Back in Sweden in 2006, Birgitta Roslin, a judge, learns that she is related to the Andren family, brutally killed in their homes. Birgitta is drawn to the murder scene and, as a judge, is given considerable latitude at the crime scene. In the house, she finds an old journal written by JA Andren and outside, in the snow, she finds a red ribbon. Birgitta chooses to eat in a Chinese restaurant later that day and she notices that the red ribbon hanging from a lantern over her table is an exact match to the ribbon from the crime scene. In fact, a red ribbon is missing from a lantern over another table.
In present day China, Ya Ru, highly successful and a major player in moving China to capitalism, has been studying the journal of his ancestor, San. Thus begins the dueling recollections of the ancestors and, assisted by an inordinate number of coincidences, Birgitta and Ya Ru move toward a confrontation.
This is not a Wallender book. It is entertaining and worth reading as long as the reader doesn’t expect everything to make sense. Sometimes, major issues are resolved so smoothly that I almost missed them. Mankell offers up plenty of information about the characters but I didn’t find myself caring very much about any of them. Birgitta is the main character but Hong Qiu, an important figure in China, is more interesting.
Read and enjoy the book for what it is, a somewhat engrossing stand-alone by Henning Mankell. Mankell is always a great writer. But don’t expect this to be on the same level as the Kurt Wallender books.