Friday, 13 January 2017

Henning Mankell - 'The Shadow Girls' and beyond.

Death is not what is frightening to me, not the fact that the light goes out, but this fact that we are going to be dead so very long.

It is almost exactly fifteen months ago that Henning Mankell passed away. The literary world is a lesser place for him not being here anymore. Every now and then I read one of his books to remind myself how good he was. My latest venture into Mankell territory was ‘The Shadow Girls’ which I have just finished. Given the plight of refugees all over Europe today and the ongoing conundrum of what to do about the issue it is amazing just how little has changed in the fifteen years since the book was published in English. Mankell’s ample insight into the problems of people smuggling for the sex trade and the thousands upon thousands who flee Africa every day makes me wonder why the only thing that has happened to the refugee crisis in Europe over the last decade and a half is that is a decade and a half older and a decade and a half worse. The problems with the way we attempt to deal with the crisis have not changed. I spent eight years working in a hostel that was used as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers arriving in the UK and the disillusionment at the realities of the ‘Promised Land’ and the abuse of the system that provides food and shelter to such people has reached breaking point. We are doing nothing more than creating a society of ‘non-persons’ as George Orwell once described them. An underground population of people who don’t technically exist in our country and can’t get back to their own.

“Whoever said something had to be written down on paper to be a story? The most important thing is that they are telling their stories at all.”

“You can be dead even though you’re alive and alive although you’re dead.”

‘The Shadow Girls’ is a beautifully written novel and a brilliant insight into the problems of our modern Europe. It is up to us however to fix the problems with more than tired and unfair legislation and insufficient funds. We deny people their asylum applications because we cannot afford them and in many cases we do not deport them for the same reason. The problem has become one of financial concerns and governments refuse to look at these people as people but instead look at them as one side of an already bursting public spending ledger. They simply become stuck at the point that they enter the system with no opportunity of breaking free. They simply swap one set of chains for another. If George Orwell only knew just how right he was.

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