Cover image for Secrets in the fire
Secrets in the fire
Mankell, Henning, 1948-2015.
Publication Information:
Toronto : Annick Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
viii, 166 pages ; 20 cm
General Note:
Translation of: Eldens hemlighet.

Translated by Anne Connie Stuksrud.

Based on a true story.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG+ 4.4 5.0 73377.
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



It is the wise old woman of the village who teaches young Sofia about the secrets in the fire. Within the flames hide all things past and all things yet to be. But not even old Muazena can see the horrors the fire holds for Sofia and her family--not the murderous bandits who drive them from their home, and not the landmine that takes Sofia's legs. In her long journey toward recovery, Sofia must still deal with growing up. Along the way, she discovers friends, and foes, in places she'd never expected. Through it all, Sofia draws on a strength she never knew she had, a fire of her own that's been a secret all along. In beautifully spare, unsentimental language, Henning Mankell's stunning novel puts a very human face on the suffering in Africa.

Author Notes

Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm, Sweden on February 3, 1948. He left secondary school at the age of 16 and worked as a merchant seaman. While working as a stagehand, he wrote his first play, The Amusement Park. His first novel, The Stone Blaster, was released in 1973. His other works included The Prison Colony that Disappeared, Daisy Sisters, The Eye of the Leopard, The Man from Beijing, Secrets in the Fire, The Chronicler of the Wind, Depths, and I Die, But My Memory Lives On. He also wrote the Kurt Wallander series, which have been adapted for film and television, and the Joel Gustafson Stories series. A Bridge to the Stars won the Rabén and Sjögren award for best children's book of the year.

He was committed to the fight against AIDS. He helped build a village for orphaned children and devoted much of his spare time to his "memory books" project, where parents dying from AIDS are encouraged to record their life stories in words and pictures. He was also among the activists who were attacked and arrested by Israeli forces as they tried to sail to the Gaza strip with humanitarian supplies in June 2010. He died from cancer on October 5, 2015 at the age of 67.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gr. 4-8. Running with her sister in the fields near their village in Mozambique, southern Africa, Sofia steps on a landmine. She loses both her legs, and her sister dies. Swedish writer Mankell, recognized for his adult mysteries, knows the real Sofia and her country, and his novel, originally published in Sweden and translated here with simple clarity, dramatizes the landmine horror, especially its devastating toll on children. With the help of a dedicated doctor, a priest, and hospital caregivers, Sofia is fitted with two artificial legs and learns to walk again. Mankell never denies how the difficulties Sofia faces--the pain, grief, and family separation (her stepfather won't have her in the house), and the poverty in the war-ravaged country, where school is one classroom without books, paper, pens, or chalk. The resolution is hopeful; Sofia learns to use a sewing machine and support herself, but the physical reality is always visible as she straps on her legs every day. One of the first books to dramatize the global landmine crisis for children, this docu-novel will grab readers with the truth of one child's terror and courage. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2003 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-A hard-hitting, eye-opening novel that brings readers face-to-face with the horrors of war. Although a work of fiction, it is based on the real-life experiences of Sofia Alface, a friend of the author. The story takes place in Mozambique, which is in the midst of a civil war (1975-1992). One night, most of the village population, including Sofia's father, are murdered by ax-wielding bandits. Sofia, her sister Maria, her mother, and her brother survive the attack and travel by foot to a faraway village. Just as they seem to be recovering from the trauma, disaster strikes again. Maria and Sofia are playing on a path when Sofia steps on a landmine. In that second, life is altered permanently. Maria dies, and Sofia loses both legs. This is one child's story of survival, strength, determination, and triumph. Through it, readers come to understand what happens to survivors of landmine accidents-physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Mankell's language and style are spare, but elicit a deeply emotional response. An appended "Message from Adopt-A-Minefield" gives facts and statistics, as well as the mission of the organization and how readers can help. This outstanding book has been adapted for film, and Sofia's inspirational story is continued in a second book, Playing with Fire, currently published in Australia (Allen & Unwin, 2002).-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 Sofia is running through the night. It's dark and she's terrified. She doesn't know why she's running, why she's scared, or where she's going. But there's something behind her, something deep in the darkness that frightens her. She knows she has to go faster, she has to run faster. Whatever the invisible thing behind her is, it's getting closer and closer. She's frightened and alone and all she can do is run. She's running along a path that twists between low trees and thornbushes. She can't see the path, but she knows it by heart. Her feet know where the path turns and where it is straight. It's the path she walks along every morning with her sister, Maria, that leads out to the field where they grow maize and greens and onions. Every morning at dawn she walks along it, and every night, just before dusk, she and Maria return with their Mama Lydia to the hut where they all live. But why is she running there now, in the darkness of the night? What is it that hunts her in the darkness a beast with no eyes? She can feel its breath on her neck, and she tries to run even faster. But she doesn't have the strength. Her first thought is to hide. To get off the path, to curl up and shrink into the bushes. She leaps the way she's seen the antelopes leap, and leaves the ground. -- Then she realizes. That's exactly what the beast in the darkness wants her to do -- leave the path: the most dangerous thing of all. Every morning Mama Lydia would say: Never leave the path. Not even by a step. Never take shortcuts. Promise me that. -- She knows there's something dangerous in the ground. Armed soldiers that no one can see. Buried in the ground, invisible. Waiting and waiting for a foot to step on them. She tries desperately to keep hovering in the air. She knows she mustn't put her feet back on the ground. But she hasn't got the strength to keep hovering she hasn't got wings like a bird and she's being pulled towards the ground and the soles of her feet are already touching the dry earth. -- Then she wakes up. She's wet with sweat, her heart hammers in her chest, and at first she doesn't know where she is. But then she hears the breathing of her sleeping brother and mother. They're lying close to each other on the floor of the hut. She reaches out carefully and touches her mother's back. Her mother stirs, but doesn't wake. Sofia lies with open eyes in the silence and the dark. Mama Lydia's breathing is light and irregular, as if she were already awake and preparing the porridge for their morning meal. On her left side is Alfredo. Before too long there will be another person sleeping on the floor of the hut. Mama Lydia is due to have a baby soon. Sofia has seen her fat before. She knows there can't be many days to go. She thinks about her dream. Now that she's woken up, she's both relieved and happy, but she's also sad. She thinks about her dream -- and about what happened that morning one year ago. She thinks about Maria, whose breathing she can no longer hear in the darkness. Maria, who is gone. -- Sofia lies awake in the darkness for a long time. An owl hoots somewhere outside, and a wary rat rustles outside the straw wall of the hut. She thinks about what happened that morning, when everything was as it used to be, and she and Maria were on their way to help Lydia weed the fields on the outskirts of the village. And she thinks about all the things that happened before then. Excerpted from Secrets in the Fire All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.