Man from Beijing (Mankell)

Discussion Questions 
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Man from Beijing:

1. The first so-called character introduced in The Man from Beijingis an animal—a wolf. Why might author Henning Mankell have chosen to open his work with a such a creature?

2. The central investigators in this story are Detective Vivi Sundberg, along with her police team, and Judge Birgitta Roslin, an "informal" investigator with a personal interest in solving the crime. How do the two women differ from one another?  How would you describe Sundberg? What were your expectations for her...that she was the heroine?

3. What kind of character is Birgitta Roslin? Some reviewers find her an engaging heroine, others a hapless bore. What's your take? Do you see her as a fully developed, complex being...or is she one-dimensional, an "action figure" whom Mankell simply uses to move the plot forward?

4. Why does Sundberg ignore the evidence that Roslin finds so convincing? And why does Roslin reject the confession that the police have in hand in favor of a seemingly far-fetched theory?

5. How does Roslin solve the book's mystery—through logical reasoning based on empirical evidence (like Sherlock Holmes)...or through feelings and intuition? Is one method more legitimate than the other...or are both equally valid?

6. Comment on Roslin's marriage? Why is it an unsatisfying relationship? What else, other than her marriage, seems to have atrophied in her middle-age?

7. Talk about Birgitta's query about herself—whether she's "a servant of the law, or of indifference?" What does she mean...and why does ask herself that question of herself?

 8. What role does Sweden's climate play in his novel—in terms of setting the mood and operating symbolically?

9. One of Henning Mankell's concerns in this novel is the way in which ordinary people, "absorbed in their own thoughts, their own fate," are caught up by global forces far beyond the scope of their everyday lives. How does this idea play out in his novel? Does Mankell's vision have relevance to your own life?

10. The book contains three distinct parts. Did you find the shifting venues, both time and place, distracting...or engaging? Does the book hold together for you as a taut, suspenseful mystery and political thriller? Or is it overly discursive, going off in too many directions to maintain the tautness established on page one?

11. Follow-up to Question 10: Do you think the book's social criticism enhances or detracts from its whodunit plotline? Would you say, for instance,  that Mankell's emphasis on global politics adds moral depth to the story...or slows its pacing?

12. How would you describe the political stance of the book with regards to the world economic order?

13. Were you shocked to learn of the treatment of the Chinese workers brought to the U.S., often by force, to build the transcontinental railroad? Or were you aware of the slave-like conditions?

14. Does the plot's dependence on coincidence, especially during the China section, bother you? Do the coincidences undermne the book's believability factor for you...or do you accept coincidence as a strange, inexplicable, yet very real part of life? 

15. Talk about Ya Ru and his global ambitions for China, including the colonization of Africa. When did you make the connection between Ya Ru the murdered Swedes?

16. What draws Roslin into a friendship with Ya Ru's sister? In what ways does Hong Qui differ from her brother?

17. How is contemporary China depicted in this novel, vis-a-vis both it's own past and its current role in the global economy?

18. What was your reaction to the 10-page speech about China's communist past and present day aspirations? Did you read it or skip parts of it...or all of it?

19. One of Roslin's colleagues says, "I didn’t think it was possible to give democracy a monetary value. If you don’t have a state functioning on the basis of law, you don’t have democracy." Does this statement have truth? Does it have wider implications...around the globe? Or is this comment off the mark, simply too broad an assertion to have relevance? Care to comment?

20. Do you buy Mankell's take on Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe?

21. How would you describe this book? Is it a mystery? A detective procedural? An international thriller? A family epic? A discourse on global politics? An historical novel? A revenge novel?

 22. Have you read other books by Henning Mankell—particularly his Kurt Wallender series? If so, how does this compare with that popular series? If not, does this book inspire you to read other Mankell works?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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