Earlier this year we detailed seven can’t-miss Finnish movies in honor of the country’s centennial celebration. Next up as we draw closer to the 100th anniversary of Finland becoming an independent state on December 6, 1917? A round-up of five must-reads books.
1. Purge by Sofi Oksanen
When it comes to top honors, this book by Finnish-Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen pretty much took them all. Not only was it the first-ever novel to win both the Finlandia and the Runeberg prizes, but it also claimed the Nordic Council Literature Prize.
What makes this one so remarkable? For starters, Oksanen’s unique background (childhood in central Finland with summers in Estonia) uniquely qualifies her to write about “the real Soviet Estonia,” AKA “what Westerners weren’t supposed to see.” Specifically, this original novel spans 60 years while telling the story of two women from different generations both of whom suffer extreme violence while trying to survive in harsh conditions.
Says The Guardian of The Purge (the title, a reference to the deportation of Estonians to the gulags during the German occupation in World War II), “The purge is pivotal for the family at the centre of her story, but Oksanen also moves beyond the bitter dilemmas of collusion and resistance to deal with the more private horror of sexual violence during both peace and war.”
Not yet comfortable with your Finnish? No worried -- Purge has been translated into 38 other languages.
2. The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna
Thanks to a (literal) run-in with a rabbit, a man suddenly realizes what’s important in life. While it may sound like an unlikely plot for an internationally bestselling novel, author Paasilinna is a master of dark humor.
While any of Paasilinna’s 29 novels are worthy of a read, The Year of the Hare -- which the New York Times declared to be “a skewed and skewering look at Finland” -- earns its spot on this list for being the author’s favorite.
3. Under the North Star Series by Väinö Linna
Okay, so we cheated a bit by picking this three-in-one, but you won’t be disappointed. Spanning 70 years, Linna’s compelling trilogy, comprising Under the North Star, The Uprising, and Reconciliation, follows an ordinary Finnish family through multiple wars thereby giving voice “to hitherto silent actors on the stage of history as it offers a comprehensive account of the social and economic realities reflected in the hopes, dreams, and experiences of Jussi and Alma Koskela and their children in the rural village of Pentti's Corners in south central Finland,” according to Goodreads.
Not only is Under the North Star widely considered to be the most significant work of Finnish literature published during the country’s independence, but it also boasts an opening line that’s to Finns what “Call me Ishmael” is to English readers: “In the beginning there were the swamp, the hoe – and Jussi."
Want more of the same when you’re done? Don’t miss The Unknown Soldier, which covers many of the same events and shares a main character with the trilogy.
4. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Jansson’s novel tells the transportive tale of an elderly artist and her young granddaughter summing together on a small island off the gulf of Finland. Raves The Guardian “Jansson's brilliance is to create a narrative that seems, at least, to have no forward motion, to exist in lit moments, gleaming dark moments, like lights on a string, each chapter its own beautifully constructed, random-seeming, complete story. Her writing is all magical deception, her sentences simple and loaded; the novel reads like looking through clear water and seeing, suddenly, the depth. As Philip Pullman so succinctly puts it, Tove Jansson was a genius.”
Love the children’s literary phenoms, the Moomins? Jansson wrote -- and illustrated -- them, too.
5. Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi
After the death of their father, seven boisterous, often-brawling Finnish brothers end up retreating to the forest to make their own lives for themselves, ultimately returning to the farm as mature men ready to play their roles in society.
One of Finland’s most treasured books, Seven Brothers is not only a classic, but is considered by many to be the greatest Finish novel of all time. Meanwhile, author Kivi is the national author of Finland, despite the fact that Seven Brothers was his first and only novel.
While the season may be passing by in a blur, there’s still plenty of time left to get in your summer reads. But why not skip the thrillers and “chick lit” this summer and instead take a fascinating tour of Finland via the written word?
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