Book notes | Italian Shoes

Henning Mankell is a Swedish author most known for his Wallander detective stories. In Italian Shoes, Mankell tells the story of Fredrik Welin, a former physician who lives in self-exile on a small, remote island off the Swedish coast in the Stockholm archipelago. He lives there with an old dog and an old cat. There is an ant hill on a table in his living room that he allows to keep growing. 

Every morning during the winter Fredrik lowers himself into the frigid Baltic Sea through a hole in the ice next to his dock. This, he says, is to make sure he is still alive.

There is an understandable reason why this once successful surgeon isolated himself on the island. 

His life changes when a former lover whom he abandoned more than 30 years earlier shows up outside his cabin to confront him about their past. Harriet re-enters his life and takes him to meet their daughter, Louise, whom Fredrik was never told about. Soon, he finds that he cares about them both, and they become very important to him. 

One day the now-changed Fredrik watches some ice-skating children jump up after they fall, and he finally admits to himself that he must not let the regrets of the past ruin his life. He decides to make amends for the tragic mistake he made during an operation by looking up the patient who was involved. Thus, Agnes becomes part of his life along with Harriet and Louise.

Where do the Italian shoes fit in? 

Louise has an old shoemaker friend named Giaconelli who is a master craftsman well known for the beautiful shoes he makes. Louise has Fredrik fitted for a pair, and the shoes are finally delivered to Fredrik at the end of the book.   

Although finding it initially depressing, UMRA Book Club members universally enjoyed this book. As the quirky characters who enter Fredrick’s life emerge, their actions engage the reader more deeply in the story. 

Readers with Swedish heritage enjoyed the descriptions of the country. And many readers saw the story as one of redemption in that when Fredrik let people into his life he experienced personal growth. 

—Pat Tollefson, UMRA Book Club member

Publication date: 
July 21, 2020
At A Glance
Tuesday, October 13, 2020

9 a.m.

Mapping prejudice 

Kirsten Delegard, PhD

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 

Living Well Workshop
11 a.m.

UMRA health plan options for open enrollment

Representatives from the Office of Human Resources and plan vendors

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

UMRA Forum
12 noon

Crisis in youth mental health
Kaz Nelson, PhD 

The University of Minnesota Retirees Association’s response to COVID-19 developments is aligned with the University's Safe Campus guidelines. 

Accordingly, all these events will be held via Zoom.