This book is ingeniously quirky and I LOVED it and laughed and found out about an amazing artist all in one. It takes place in Stockholm and Kenya. Victor, a despicable young man, lands a job in a prestigious art gallery, Alderheims. The widowed owner has a young daughter, Jenny, and Victor, taking the long view, plans to secure his future through her. Early on, we know that he despises the modern and expressionist art sold at Alderheims: his taste in art and politics is more akin to that of Adolph Hitler. Only representational art that does not include any non-Swedish people will do. Meanwhile and inexplicably, we meet several generations of medicine men in a very rural village on the Kenyan savannah. It is how Jonasson weaves these two cultures together through art, race, culture, good and evil that makes this a humorous romp and lets us meet a cast of wonderful characters.
Kevin, Victor’s biological son with a prostitute who died of AIDS, has no idea that the guy who put him up in an apartment until he turned 18 is his father. Hugo, an ad man, leaves the business to start up what he thinks will be a great business model, a company that helps people get revenge on those who wronged them, often over petty things. Hugo’s brother Malte is an ophthalmologist, which does become relevant. Jenny, of course, is the daughter of Alderheim, seen through Victor’s eyes as drab and dispensable. Victor serially does both Jenny and Kevin wrong and– unfortunately for him, this ends up mattering in a way he never imagines. Victor is prone to grandiosity as well as evil. And then there is a lovable, talented — mostly unaware of the modern world due to the dictates of a backwards village chief — current generation Kenyan medicine man. Ole Mbatian the Younger, who gets mixed into these relationships in a most curious way.
Thrown into the mix and central to the story are two paintings that originated in Kenya and that look suspiciously like the style of German artist Irma Stern. Partway through the book, though I never heard of her, I looked up Stern’s name and found she was real and in fact traveled through Africa painting local people in a style that would be considered neo-expressionist. As a Jew and as a person who did not paint representational works, Stern was anathema in fact to Adolf Hitler and, in our story, to Victor. But her work is worth millions. Can these paintings be passed off as authentic? Who owns them? Who acquires them? What happens to them?
I highly recommend this book. The translation MUST be excellent because the writing is fluid, funny and I could not put this down. Enjoy! OH! And Google Irma Stern for her African paintings and her flower paintings. Amazing painter. Thanks to Jonason for the introduction to her as well!