He was a left-wing social critic and activist. In his books and plays he constantly highlighted social inequality issues and injustices in Sweden and abroad. In 2010, Mankell was on board one of the ships in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that was boarded by Israeli military forces.
Mankell shared his time between Sweden and countries in Africa, mostly Mozambique where he started a theatre. He made considerable donations to charity organizations, mostly connected to Africa.
Mankell's grandfather, also named Henning Mankell, lived from 1868 to 1930 and was a composer. Mankell was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1948. His father Ivar was a lawyer who divorced his mother when Mankell was one year old. He and an older sister lived with his father for most of their childhood. The family first lived in Sveg, Härjedalen in northern Sweden, where Mankell's father was a district judge. In the biography on Mankell's website, he describes this time when they lived in a flat above the court as one of the happiest in his life. In Sveg, a museum was built in his honour during his lifetime.
Later, when Mankell was thirteen, the family moved to Borås, Västergötland on the Swedish west coast near Gothenburg. After three years he dropped out of school and went to Paris when he was 16. Shortly afterwards he joined the merchant marine, working on a cargo ship and he "loved the ship's decent hard-working community". In 1966, he returned to Paris to become a writer. He took part in the student uprising of 1968. He later returned to work as a stagehand in Stockholm. At the age of 20, he had already started as author at Riksteatern in Stockholm. In the following years he collaborated with several theatres in Sweden. His first play, The Amusement Park dealt with Swedish colonialism in South America. In 1973, he published The Stone Blaster, a novel about the Swedish labour movement. He used the proceeds from the novel to travel to Guinea-Bissau. Africa would later become a second home to him, and he spent a big part of his life there. When his success as a writer made it possible, he founded and ran a theatre in Mozambique.
After living in Zambia and other African countries, Mankell was invited from 1986 onward to become the artistic director of Teatro Avenida in Maputo, Mozambique. He subsequently spent extended periods in Maputo working with the theatre and as a writer. He built his own publishing house, Leopard Förlag, in order to support young talented writers from Africa and Sweden. His novel Chronicler of the Winds, published in Sweden as Comédie infantil in 1995, reflects African problems and is based on African storytelling. On 12 June 2008, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of St Andrews in Scotland "in recognition of his major contribution to literature and to the practical exercise of conscience".
Around 2008, Mankell developed two original stories for the German police series Tatort. Actor Axel Milberg, who portrays Inspector Klaus Borowski, had asked Mankell to contribute to the show when they were promoting The Man from Beijing audiobook, a project that Milberg had worked on. The episodes were scheduled to broadcast in Germany in 2010. In 2010, Mankell was set to work on a screenplay for Sveriges Television about his father-in-law, movie and theatre director Ingmar Bergman, on a series produced in four one-hour episodes. Mankell pitched the project to Sveriges Television and production was planned for 2011. At the time of his death, Mankell had written over 40 novels that had sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.
Mankell was married four times and had four sons, Thomas, Marius, Morten and Jon, by different relationships. In 1998 he married Eva Bergman, daughter of film director Ingmar Bergman.
In January 2014, Mankell announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and throat cancer. In May 2014, he reported that treatments had worked well and he was getting better.
He wrote a series of articles inspired by his wife Eva, describing his situation, how it felt to be diagnosed, how it felt to be supported, how it felt to wait, and after his first chemotherapy at Sahlgrenska University Hospital about the importance of cancer research. Three weeks before his death he wrote about what happens to people’s identity when they are stricken by a serious illness His last post was published posthumously 6 October.
On 5 October 2015, Mankell died at the age of 67, almost two years after having been diagnosed.
In his youth Mankell was a left-wing political activist and participated in the Protests of 1968 in Sweden, protesting against, among other things, the Vietnam War, the Portuguese Colonial War, and the apartheid regime in South Africa. Furthermore, he got involved with Folket i Bild/Kulturfront which focused on cultural policy studies. In the 1970s, Mankell moved from Sweden to Norway and lived with a Norwegian woman who was a member of the Maoist Workers' Communist Party. He took an active part in their activities but did not join the party.
In 2002, Mankell gave financial support by buying stocks for 50,000 NOK in the Norwegian left-wing newspaper Klassekampen. In 2009, Mankell was a guest at the Palestine Festival of Literature. He said he had seen "repetition of the despicable apartheid system that once treated Africans and coloured as second-class citizens in their own country". He found a resemblance between the Israeli West Bank barrier and the Berlin Wall: "The wall that is currently dividing the country will prevent future attacks, in short term. In the end, it will face the same destiny as the wall that once divided Berlin did." Considering the environment the Palestinian people live in, he continued: "Is it strange that some of them in pure desperation, when they cannot see any other way out, decide to become suicide bombers? Not really? Maybe it is strange that there are not more of them."
Mankell stated in an interview with Haaretz that he did not support Hezbollah. In Mankell's opinion the state of Israel should not have a future as a two-state solution and this "will not be the end of the historical occupation". He said he did not encounter antisemitism during his journey, just "hatred against the occupants that is completely normal and understandable", and said that "to keep these two things separate is crucial".
In 2010, Henning Mankell was on board the MS Sofia, one of the boats which took part in the flotilla which tried to break the Israeli embargo of the Gaza strip. Following the Israel Defense Forces' boarding of the flotilla on the morning of 31 May 2010, Mankell was deported to Sweden. He subsequently called for global sanctions against Israel. In 2010 it was reported that he was considering halting Hebrew translations of his books. In June 2011, Mankell stated in an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he had never considered preventing his books from being translated into Hebrew, and that unidentified persons had stolen his identity to make this false claim.
Mankell was supposed to be one of twenty Swedish participants in "Freedom Flotilla II" which never took place. It was originally scheduled to sail to Gaza in June 2011.
In 2007, Henning Mankell donated 15 million Swedish crowns (about 1.5 million euros) to SOS Children's Villages for a children's village in Chimoio in western Mozambique. Mankell donated vast amounts of money to charitable organizations such as SOS Children's Villages and Hand in Hand, a collection of independent organizations.
In the 1980s, Mankell visited United Nations refugee camps in Mozambique and later accompanied UN High Commissioner Sadako Ogata to refugee camps in South Africa. In 2013, he visited Congolese refugees in Uganda. He wrote on the plight of refugees and after his death his website asked for donations in his name to the UN Commission on Refugees.
The theme for short stories submitted to the inaugural Festival Fim do Caminho Literary Prize, "Crime in Mozambique", was chosen in homage to Mankell.
Kurt Wallander is a fictional police inspector living and working in Ystad, Sweden. In the novels, he solves shocking murders with his colleagues. The novels have an underlying question: "What went wrong with Swedish society?"
The series has won many awards, including the German Crime Prize and the British 2001 CWA Gold Dagger for Sidetracked (1995).
The ninth book, The Pyramid (1999), is a prequel about Wallander's past, covering the time until just before the start of Faceless Killers (1991). It includes a collection of five novellas:Wallander's First Case
The Man with the Mask
The Man on the Beach
The Death of the Photographer
Ten years after The Pyramid, Mankell published another Wallander novel, The Troubled Man (2009), which he said would definitely be the last in the series.
Linda is the daughter of Kurt Wallander, who follows in his footsteps as a police officer. Mankell began an intended trilogy of novels with her as the protagonist. However, following the suicide of Johanna Sällström, the actress playing the character at the time in the Swedish TV series, Mankell was so distraught that he decided to abandon the series after only the first novel.Etterfølgeren (The Successor) (1997 film)
Labyrinten (2000), TV mini-series
Talismanen (2003), TV mini-series (co-written with Jan Guillou)
Unnamed Ingmar Bergman docudrama (2012), TV mini-series
Wallander (1997–2007) Sveriges Television. Swedish language.
Wallander (2005, 2009, 2013) Yellow Bird for TV4 (Sweden). Swedish language.
Wallander (2008, 2009) Yellow Bird for BBC (UK). English language.
1991 – Swedish Crime Writers' Academy, Best Swedish Crime Novel Award for Faceless Killers
1991 – Nils Holgersson Plaque for A Bridge to the Stars
1992 – Glass Key award For Best Nordic Crime Novel: Faceless Killers
1993 – Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for A Bridge to the Stars
1995 – Swedish Crime Writers' Academy, Best Swedish Crime Novel Award for Sidetracked
1996 – Astrid Lindgren Prize
2001 – Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year: Sidetracked
2001 – Corine Literature Prize for One Step behind
2004 – Toleranzpreis der Evangelischen Akademie Tutzing
2005 – Gumshoe Award for Best European Crime Novel: The Return of the Dancing Master
2008 – Corine Literature Prize for the German Audiobook The Man from Beijing