Alexander McCall Smith at The New Statesman:
When the University of St Andrews gave Henning Mankell an honorary doctorate in 2008, it announced that the degree was awarded not only for his contribution to literature but also for the “practical exercise of conscience”. That is a formal way of saying “for being a good man”, which is what Mankell was. Now, in Quicksand, published in English less than four months after his death, the Swedish novelist gives us an insight into how he reacted to his diagnosis of cancer and reflected on his mortality. The result is an extraordinarily moving book that tells us a great deal about Mankell’s life and, incidentally, a lot about our lives, too.
Mankell is best known for his crime novels. The Wallander series stands high in the pantheon of “Nordic noir”, that flowering of fiction that has dominated the recent detective novel. But his writing was not the only focus of his public life. Mankell was also a political activist whose position on issues such as the Palestinian question was widely reported (in 2010, he was in the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” and was deported back to Sweden when the Israel Defence Forces boarded the boats).
He did not mince his words and attracted enthusiastic support, as well as a measure of criticism. In sub-Saharan Africa, with which he had a long and profound association, he put his money to good use. Not only did he endow an orphanage but he gave considerable sums to support drama and literature in countries where funding of the arts is not a high priority. He established and managed an important theatre in Mozambique. He helped people in numerous ways. He was the opposite of the preachy, distant critic. He got his hands dirty.