Mankell play published in English for first time

Mankell play published in English for first time

An extract from a "taboo" play by late Scandinavian crime writer, Henning Mankell, never before translated into English, has been published by quarterly freedom-of-expression magazine Index on Censorship in its latest issue.

Mankell, who died last year of cancer, aged 67, is most famous for his novels based on the character Kurt Wallander, but he was also a prolific playwright of over 30 plays. 

Index on Censorship, which was originally set up in 1971 to tell "untold stories of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain”, ran an extract of Mankell's "black comedy" The Antelopes, a play that examines colonial power in Africa.

The play was inspired by the “double perspectives” Mankell gained from living in both Sweden and Mozambique while artistic director of the Mutumbela Gogo Theater Company and co-director of the Teatro Avenida.

Index on Censorship also published a short introduction by Mankell, setting the play in a landscape he refers to as "a conscious illusion”, with the set itself a room that could easily be part of a prosperous suburb on the outskirts of a Swedish city "but the house is in Africa”. It further described the set as "a battle between irreconcilable presences, between falsehood and truth” where, in Mankell’s words, “the African landscape, the bush, the burning plains, is already creeping in over the thresholds of the house” and “the elephant grass grows in amongst the furniture".

In the scene are a husband and wife, known only as “husband” and “wife”, who disagree over the origins of a red dress bought in Cairo. He asks: "I don’t know why you always have to invent your memories. Why can’t you be content with real happenings?” She follows the altercation by asking him what he means by “home” and where that is, to which he responds: "Home can only be one thing”.

Index on Censorship has published names in literature including Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Samuel Beckett and Kurt Vonnegut, and campaigning writers Vaclav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Rachael Jolley, editor at Index on Censorship magazine, said: "Henning Mankell is one of the world's most celebrated crime writers, but what is less known is that he spent half the year in Mozambique working with Teatro Avienda. We are excited to publish this extract from the play The Antelopes, never before published in English. This black comedy tackles a subject that is taboo for many, that of colonial power in Africa and its impact. The couple at the heart of the play have a bizarre relationship with each other which seems to reflect the oddness of their relationship with the African country they are living in.”

Mankell’s memoir Quicksand (Harvill Secker), meanwhile, was published in February, a book that is as much "about what it means to be human” as it is about coping with cancer. He began writing after he was diagnosed in January 2014.