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An imaginary trip to Finland

Books have always been a part of my life, from the time my mom would read aloud to me and my siblings before bed, to eventually choosing comparative literature as my major in university. Reading is also a great way to get to know a place or a culture, so I thought I’d share a few of my favourites from Finnish literature. The following books have been translated to either Hungarian or English (or both), and I can full-heartedly recommend them to keep you company while social distancing or just staying in on the cold autumn days.

Pajtim Statovcsi: Bolla
Okay, this one is cheating because the English translation is not out yet, but it’s coming in 2021 and the book is amazing, so look out! Bolla won the Finlandia prize, the most notable literature prize in Finland, in 2019. Like Statovci’s earlier works, it deals with identity, sexuality and trauma, and it is set in both Finland and the 90s’ Yugoslavia, torn apart by war. The book tells a story of the protagonist’s secret relationship with another man. Most of the characters are somewhat unlikable but very humane, and the book is a great mix of realism, symbolism and folklore. It is narrated simultaneously from multiple points in time, which definitely keeps the reader interested to find out how the protagonist has ended up in the situation he is in – and where he will go from there.

Tove Jansson: Sculptor’s Daughter
Tove Jansson may be best known for the Moomin stories, but she was also a great writer and a visual artist, whose life has just been made into a movie. My personal favourite from her writings is this small but very atmospheric, (presumedly) fictional memoir written from a point of view of a child. It describes family life in southern Helsinki with a sculptor father and his bohemian friends, as well as spending summers in a cabin on an island off the coast of Finland. Both milieus are described with delightful attention to detail, but the child’s point of view makes everything very fresh and slightly absurd. The book consists of short stories describing episodes from the family’s life, a favourite of mine depicting an artists’ party the protagonist observes from her sleeping loft. All in all the book is very heart warming and funny.

Aleksis Kivi: Seven Brothers
This book hardly needs an introduction, but classics sometimes get a bad rep for being boring or difficult to read. To each their own, but I want to stress that Seven Brothers is anything but boring! In many ways it is a very interesting description of life in a small Finnish town in the 1800s, but it is also filled with absurd, dramatic turns and full-blown idiotic behaviour from the main characters. It also works as great escapism from modern life, as it shows what would happen if we just abandoned all our responsibilities and moved to a forest – with family members we don’t always get along with.

Emmi Itäranta: Memory of Water
Set in dystopian Lapland, the book describes a world where water is a scarce resource that countries have gone to war over. The protagonist is a young girl called Noria who inherits her family profession of a tea master – and a secret they have carried for generations. While the book is young adult fiction, it will capture older readers as well. It also provides a refreshing take on a young adult dystopian trope: instead of some kind of messed up version of urban United States the milieu is a village in Northern Finland that lives in close harmony with nature. Itäranta, who lives in England, translated the book herself, so you can be sure the English translation is faithful to the writer’s vision!

All of these books provide a slightly different vision of Finland with varying degrees of realism, but there is something that feels truthful about all of them, and that is a prerequisite for a great reading experience. So make yourself a cup of coffee and grab a book, and you have a perfect autumn evening planned!

 

Written by FinnAgora's intern, Salla Hiltunen

Finnagora