'I have spent too long on plants and animals. Now it is time for human beings.' This haunting novel is based on the life of Anders Sparrman, the Swedish naturalist, who in the second half of the eighteenth century, became the last and youngest disciple of the scientist Carl Linnaeus. In his quest for new animal and plant specimens, Sparrman sailed to China at seventeen, joined Captain Cook on his second voyage to Antarctica and Tahiti, and made a pioneering journey on foot into the South African interior. In South Africa Sparrman witnessed the terrible cruelties of slavery, which made him a staunch abolitionist for the rest of his life. Wastberg uses his own extensive knowledge of South Africa and Sweden to create a strange, almost mystical narrative, that weaves passages from Sparrman's letters and journals into his own spare prose. As he follows Sparrman from innocent student to sceptical adventurer to dedicated botanist to militant abolitionist, he evokes the beauty of the Swedish countryside, the squalid conditions on board ship, the dangers and geographical wonders of Africa and, finally, the late flowering passion that overtakes Sparrman's life.
In this magical, poetic novel, set between the end of the Enlightenment and the dawn of Romanticism, Wastberg's narrative combines intellectual precision with emotional power.
Per Wastberg is the chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature. He founded the Swedish Section of Amnesty International in 1963, and was deeply involved in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. From 1976 to 1982 he was the editor of Sweden's largest daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter. He was president of International PEN from 1979 to 1986. He is the author of fifty publications, including novels, poetry, essays and works on African politics and literature.