When the story begins, Hanna Restrom is 18 years old. She lives a pretty bleak life in rural Sweden, until her recently widowed mother arranges work for her in the home of a family friend some distance away in a coastal town. For Hanna, life begins when she says farewell to her mother and makes the long journey to the new town. It isn't long before she gets the opportunity to work as a cook on a ship that transports timber to Australia - and yes, apparently this did happen and was not unusual. Within three short months, she is married and widowed, and unable to bear her predicament any longer, she basically jumps ship when it docks at Lourenco Marques, Mozambique. Here the events unfold that lead to her becoming a wealthy woman and brothel owner. But as suddenly as she appears in the old colonial ledger books, she also disappears. And this forms the rest of the novel.
Hanna recreates herself several times during the few years she lives in Lourenco Marques, and as a white woman in a largely black population under rigorously enforced Portuguese control, she is in a very privileged position. It does not take her long to see the injustices going on around her, with the way the local populace is treated, and the attitudes of disdain and prejudice that prevail. This conflict, and her increasing unwillingness to tow the line, become the key drivers in Hanna's life, and in her dealings with her employees, house servants, and others. As you have probably gathered it does not end happily.
The story itself is well worth reading, but the writing too is quite bewitching. We feel the overwhelming African heat, the loneliness and isolation Hanna feels in her highly unusual position in the local society, her constant feeling of alienation in this very foreign environment, the menacing undertone at the imbalance of power between native African and white interloper. It is very good, and lingers for quite some time after finishing. I really look forward to reading more of this author.