Sunday, 24 October 2010

Henning Mankell's Italian shoes and the gentle hand of love and meaning

"There are two sorts of truth: trvialities, where the opposite is obviously impossible, and deep truths, which are characterised by their opposite also being a deep truth." Niels Bohr

We are on the train from Berlin back to Switzerland. I've just finished reading Henning Mankell's wonderful book Italian Shoes. It's always a little embarassing to be reading on a train and find yourself moved to tears, but by the time the book ended with a satisfying new beginning my eyes were streaming, somehow thought my heart was smiling.

I'm used to reading Mankell's detective fiction which is great if a little bloody, but have been a bit disapointed with a couple of the other novels by him which I've read. Italian Shoes is different.
I'm not going to give the plot away - in some ways there is no plot but it is very deeply about the threads of life being picked up again. Not without extreme pain, not without violence, not without wrong moves and death but there is a powerful sense of future and meaning by the time the written story ends and the future starts to open up.
I've been wanting to find a really good book that would satisfy me in the way only a good novel can and as so often happens I found it in the railway station book shop and didn't know I had fallen on treasure when I bought it. I just thought "Ah a Mankell I haven't read yet ..."
It is deeply life-affirming book but not at all in an easy or trite way. Hope comes in the form of Italian shoes but not in some kind of consumerist way. The book charts the freezing and thawing of the Swedish island landscape, the painful thawing and flowering of rebuilt relationships.
One of my theology professors used to say - read novels to understand theology. As with all good fiction Mankell's book is not only about one theme but about complexities woven together in the compelling stories of human beings and their interchange with each other and the natural world.
Three quotes begin the book - one is that at the beginning of this post from the physicist Niels Bohr the final one is from Swedish writer Sigfrid Siwertz and goes "Love is a gentle hand which slowly pushes fate to one side." A wonderful idea beautifully expressed - if only it could be more true!

And the third quote which actually opens the book is all about shoes ...
"When the shoe fits, you don't think about the foot" Chuang Chou.

This book really fitted me at the moment, its concerns, its tone and the surprising theme of hope ... quite simply a good read, what a blessing.