What it Means to Be a Human Being

Two extracts from the Henning Mankell's 'Quicksand - What It Means to Be a Human Being', published in 2014, just a year before his death.

The first forms part of the Dedication:

'This book is also dedicated to the baker Terentius Neo and his wife, whose name we don't know. Their faces can  be seen in a fresco painting at their house in Pompeii.

Two people in the prime of life. Their expressions are solemn, but they also appear to have a spiritual dimension. She is very beautiful, but looks unsure of herself. He gives the impression of modesty.

They seem to be two people who take their lives extremely seriously.

When the volcano erupted in AD 79, they can't have had much time to grasp what was happening. They died there, in the middle of their lives, buried underneath the ash and the glowing lava.' 


The second is from the Epilogue:

'Endless numbers of people surround you as you travel through life. Some you notice briefly, then forget. With others you make eye contact, which leads to a kind of emotional connection. And sometimes you have a conversation with some of these people.

And then you have your family, your friends, your workmates. All those who are close to you. Some move away, or your relationship cools, or they let you down in some way, and friends sometimes become enemies..

But most are simply folk who happen to live at the same time as you do. Miillions of people who pay a short visit to the earth, whose stay overlaps your own.

Since being diagnosed with cancer I often dream about walking along streets where lots of people are jostling their way past others. It can be quite difficult to make progress. My dream sometimes places me briefly in a theatre, or a cafe, or in an aeroplane: I am searching for someone. Someone who knows me, someone who is also searching for me.

Then the dream ends and I nearly always wake up with a feeling of great relief. There is nothing frightening about all these people who accompany me or have accompanied me as I journey through life. It is more a feeling of curiosity about who they actually were - I would have liked to get to know so many of them better.

Such as the woman in the Stephansdom cathedral, the tango dancers in Buenos Aires, or the girl in the camp in Mozambique who was reunited with her parents.

And the lumberjack and the businessman he killed in northern Sweden sixty years ago.

All these unknown people exist alongside me. For a short time they have been part of my life. I share it with all of them.

Our real family is endless, even if we don't know who some of them were when we met them for an extremely brief moment.'  (p 302 -303)


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