Scene: A country (many countries) in Africa. Revolutionaries overthrow colonial powers. Colonists flee, and civil war erupts. Villages are destroyed, families are broken, and homeless people drift to cities. Orphans become street kids. Undoubtedly this is a very well-written story, important and tragic. Just not for me.
Jose finds a young beggar called Nelio with gunshot wounds lying in a theatre near his workplace in an unnamed city in Africa. Nelio, one of a group of beggars living in the streets, fled from his home when bandits recruiting child soldiers for the revolution burned down the village and killed his family. Jose tells Nelio’s story as he lies dying on the rooftop of the theatre.
“They had only one mission in life: survive.”
“Nelio had often pondered the power that chance has over human beings. Those little words “if” and “if not” were more important than all other words. No one could ignore them, no one could deny that they were always close at hand, like symbols of the unpredictability that shapes our lives.”
“The earth is sinking farther and farther, the groups of street children are more numerous and grow larger – the street children who live in the poorest of countries, the lands of street children.”
“… our last hope is to remember who we are, that we are human beings.”Quotes from the book.
- Sydney Morning Herald: “That Mankell feels deeply for the kids of whom he writes is plain enough but caring slips sometimes into sentimentality and occasionally lurches well beyond mawkishness. Mankell is a good enough writer to drag himself back to the core of his story but some of his long digressions will try your patience. Persevere to Nelio’s last hours when Mankell draws directly on his own love of the theatre in Africa and you will be well rewarded. What cannot be denied is the sincerity of Mankell’s belief that we lose our claim to humanity if we continue to ignore the plight of child squalor in the streets of our cities. There will be, he warns, a reckoning and it will be terrible. We can’t say we weren’t told.”
- The Guardian: “Mankell writes eloquently of the realities of poverty and violence without becoming sugary or didactic. Yet there is a magical-realist tendency in the book that sits strangely with the grim-faced descriptions of carnage and death.”
- Kirkus: “Only for those who can believe in a wise, courageous, sensitive, ten-year-old visionary. Skeptics can bypass.”
- “Comédia infantil” (“Nelio’s Story”) is a 1998 Portuguese language film. Swedish Film Database.
- “Mein Herz schlägt in Afrika” (“My Heart Beats in Africa”) was a 2009 film based on topics from the novel.
- 1995 nomination August Prize and the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize.
- 1996 Winner of novel prize of the Swedish broadcaster SR P1