Monday 6 December 2010

Review: Playing with Fire - Henning Mankell

This review is part of HIV/AIDS in YA Lit Week organised by Caroline from Portrait of a Woman.  For more information check out Caroline's post here

'In the night there was a blue world lit by the sand trickled between her fingers and swells of seawater moved inside her...It was a dream, yet Sofia knew that her time had come.  She was fifteen, and childhood was behind her.'

Sofia takes in sewing, and her older sister, Rosa, works in the vegetable plot to help their mother support their family.  Rosa is strong and beautiful, and she loves boys, and dancing - something that Sofia, with her crutches, will never be able to do.  Sofia imagines a boy who will love her for herself - Moonboy - the boy who appears in the night.  Then suddenly Rosa falls ill, and Sofia is afraid for her.  Their mother puts her faith in African magic, but it's Sofia who must help Rosa face the reality of AIDS, and the difficult road ahead.

Fire Trilogy:
Secrets in the Fire
Playing with Fire
The Fury in the Fire

Visit Henning Mankell's website for more information

Life is difficult for Sofia and her family, they don't have much money and their mother works long days in the fields to grow food for them.  Sofia and her sister both do their best to bring in extra money with Sofia taking in sewing and Rosa working on their vegetable plot.  Rosa is everything Sofia wants to be - she is beautiful and loves to go dancing, something Sofia has been unable to do since she lost her legs after stepping on a landmine 4 years ago.  Sofia dreams of finding someone who will love her as she is but everything changes for her when Rosa falls ill.  Sofia has seen the reality of HIV and AIDS from her long hospital stay but her mother and sister are convinced that the witchdoctor can heal Rosa. 

When I picked up this book to review for the YA book bloggers campaign to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS I didn't realise it is actually part of a trilogy.  This series is actually based on the true story of Sofia, a young woman in Mozambique, someone Henning Mankell met there and has remained friends with.  Henning spends part of every year living in Mozambique and the fact that he knows the country and it's people so well shines through in the writing.

Playing with Fire is a moving story of a young girl suffering with HIV, it shows how the disease is spreading through the community with not many people understanding what causes it and how it is transmitted.  People believe that the witchdoctor can cure sufferers and go to great lengths to get enough money to for their help.  This book isn't afraid to show the harsh reality of what it is like to suffer from HIV and AIDS.  It also talks about poverty and the difficulties the family face just putting enough food on the table and of course touches on the horror of landmines and the damage they can do.  There were so many serious themes running through the book but overall it is a story about hope and strength, love and family.

Sofia is an amazingly strong character, she lost both her legs after stepping on a landmine but has since learnt to walk again with her prosthetic legs and crutches.  She is determined to attend school and wants to learn enough to become a doctor one day.  Sofia is frightened by what is happening to Rosa, especially as she knows more about the disease than her family but she puts her worries to one side while trying to support her mother and sister.

This story that will transport you to Africa while you are reading, it is so easy to picture Sofia's family and their friends who are all larger than life characters.  The only thing I wasn't too keen on were the dream like scenes between Sofia and the boy she calls Moonboy, they were a little too surreal and to me didn't fit with the rest of the book.  I'm guessing they were the author's way of lightening up what could be a difficult story to read but I felt they took something away from it.  That is down to personal taste though & I'm sure not everyone would feel the same way as I did.  Overall I enjoyed the story and am definitely planning on reading the other books in the series Secrets in the Fire and The Fury in the Fire.

Source: Library

Other Reviews:
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.


  1. What a powerful read. I agree that the dream scenes might have changed the tone too much.

  2. Hi Kelli, this was a powerful read & I'll definitely be checking out the other books in the series. I think I'd have prefered it without the dream scenes though, they were just a bit too supernatural for what wasn't a supernatural book if you get what I mean? That's probably really badly worded but I can't seem to get my brain in gear this evening lol

  3. hi i love this book, its inspirational, outgoing and awesome

    1. It really is a very thought provoking story isn't it Olivia, I'm glad you enjoyed it too!



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