Tea-Bag, a young African girl, has fled a refugee camp in Spain for the promise of a new life in Sweden. Tania has made a long and dangerous journey to escape the horrors of human trafficking. Leyla has come with her family from Iran. All of them are facing different challenges in their new home.
Meanwhile, celebrated poet Jesper Humlin is looking for inspiration. Harried by his mother and girlfriend, misunderstood by his publisher and tormented by his stockbroker, Jesper needs a new perspective on life. A chance encounter with Tea-Bag leads him into the shadow world of the immigrant experience in Sweden. Initially he sees the girls purely as material for his next work, but soon discovers they have very different ideas.
In The Shadow Girls, Henning Mankell tells the extraordinary stories of three young women who are determined to overcome the hardships they face to take control of their own lives. This inspiring novel encompasses both humour and tragedy and illuminates our understanding of those left on the margins of our society.
Well the blurb on the cover says it all. Henning Mankell has taken a very pressing and topical issue and, through the stories of "Tea-Bag", Leyla and "Tanya", brought a depth of understanding to the issues that each of them faced not only on their journey to Sweden but in what happens next for them when they arrive and try to assimilate into their chosen country. For many refugees and immigrants their story doesn't end when they cross the border to their chosen country and as the main character in this novel, Jesper, discovers their stories are buried underneath a multitude of layers.
I really enjoyed reading this book and I think Mankell has, through his use of the "writing seminars" and Tea-Bags narrative, found an effective way to layer this story. Jesper's approach towards Tea-Bag, Tanya and Leyla is probably typical of someone who has little understanding of the true danger of discovery when you are without "legal status".
I enjoyed the way the characters stories were woven together and although I found it a little difficult to understand what was happening as Tea-Bags story progressed I was pretty hooked about a quarter of the way in and had a few late nights reading this.
I was frustrated by the ending and would have liked to have known what happened to Jesper not only in his future relationship with his mother and partner but in his work. So perhaps another chapter would have left me feeling satisfied instead of left hanging. I also thought it a little unlikely that Tea-Bag, Leyla and Tanya would have been quite so eloquent and fluent in their narrative however this is an authors poetic licence I suppose and somewhat necessary to the telling of the story that they be fluent in Jespers native language.
This was a wonderfully written novel that I enjoyed reading immensely. I would recommend this novel as an insight into cross border immigration and refugee experiences in Europe.
I think generally books in NZ are always priced too high but look out for this as it is well worth a read.
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