review by Maryom
Nombeko Mayeki was born in a shack in Soweto, South Africa, and expected nothing remarkable to happen in her life - so how did she end up in Sweden, on the run from the Israeli secret service, with twins who share the same identity, an extremely angry young woman and an elderly potato-farming Countess. And how did the fate of the world - and the King of Sweden - come to rest in her hands?
I'm struggling slightly to describe this book without just going ahead and retelling it - is it a comedy, a thriller or a bit of everything; in part, the title's a bit of a spoiler as it's a long way through the book before the King of Sweden appears. What it most definitely is is a delightful, quirky tale full of serendipitous happenings and accidental meetings that takes Nombeko and the reader from 1960s South Africa to Sweden today via a look at apartheid, the arms race, Swedish monarchy and seemingly a million and one other side topics.
Nombeko is an amazing character; one I quickly warmed to. Her life has been full of troubles - starting work at the age of 5 as a latrine emptier, getting run over by a drunk driver and then being made to take the blame for it, finding a way to escape to Sweden to a life free from oppression and then finding herself responsible for an unwanted nuclear bomb (as you do!) - through it all she remains remarkably upbeat, hoping things will take a turn for the better but not feeling down and beaten if they don't. A genius at maths, engineering and languages, Nombeko is a puzzle to her South African white 'superiors' - a black cleaning woman who's cleverer than they are? Impossible! Fortunately not all the world shares their point of view.
From farce to narrowly-averted tragedy, it's a highly entertaining read full of strange events and even stranger characters.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Fourth Estate
Genre - adult fiction, humour
Translator - Rachel Willson-Broyles
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