Read Around the World: Finland
We are going to depart from the UK and head onto Finland for the next stop in our world tour or reading! Join us as we explore some of what Finland has to offer in terms of literature and find out which book we selected. We hope you help us to add to the list of recommended reading for Finland!
Fun Facts about Finland
- Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union with only 16 inhabitants per km.
- It has been an independent country since 1917. Prior to 1917 it was part of Sweden and the Russian Empire.
- It is home to thousands of lakes (188,00) and islands (179,500) and is often referred to as the “land of the thousand lakes.”
- It is also frequently referred to as the “land of the midnight sun” because in the summer months in the North, the sun shines all day.
- The Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers (12kg per year), perhaps because of the 24 hour daylight.
- Santa Claus officially lives in Finland, in the arctic circle, near the town of Rovaniemi.
- It is ranked first on the Environmental Sustainability Index of Yale and Columbia.
- Finland has the must successful Olympic record history with the most gold medals won per capita.
- It is home to over 2 million saunas (or one for every 2.5 people).
- It is home to a place that is on my travel bucket list: Glass igloos where you can watch the Northern Lights as you fall asleep. You can check it out here.
Book Selected: Sommar Boken (The Summer Book) by Tove Jansson
Published in: 1972
Find it here: The Summer Book
Reason Selected: We selected this book because it both written by a Finnish author and it takes place in Finland. Author Tove Jansson was a Swedish-speaking, Finnish writer and artist best known for her Moomin children’s books. She wrote and illustrated several short stories, comic strips, and books. The Summer Book is one of the few adult books she wrote and it takes place on an island in the gulf of Finland. The book is beautifully descriptive with respect to the scenery of the island and captures the essence of Finnish nature.
Synopsis (from Amazon): In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.
Jen’s Review: I really liked this deceptively simple book. Themes of life and death, youth and aging, nature, and family relationships are subtle undercurrents throughout the narrative. Each chapter reads like a short story that stands alone. There is little on the way of plot development but together the chapters paint the picture of life on a small island and the beautiful relationship between a young girl who is haunted by the loss of her mother and her grandmother who is tries to ease that transition. The death of Sophie’s mother is only directly mentioned once (at the beginning of the book) but in many ways it lies underneath much of Sophie’s experience. This book made me think warmly about my own relationship with my grandmother who passed away several years ago.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
An island can be dreadful for someone from outside. Everything is complete and everyone has his obstinate, sure, and self-sufficient place. Within their shores, everything functions according to rituals that are as hard as rock from repetition, and at the same time they amble through their days as whimsically and casually as if the world ended at the horizon.
Everything was fine, and yet everything was overshadowed by a great sadness. It as August, and the weather was sometimes stormy and sometimes nice, but for Grandmother, no matter what happened, it was only time on top of time, since everything is vanity and a chasing after the wind.
Book Worm’s Review: 4 stars
This is essentially a collection of short stories chronically a year in the life of a grandmother and her 6 year old granddaughter who spend the summer living on a small island off the coast of Finland. Sophia’s (granddaughter) mother has just died and while her father is also living on the island he remains in the background, the story focuses on the female relationship and their relationship with nature.
The stories contain a range of emotion as Sophia and her grandmother contemplate life and death, and the relationship each has with God.
A very touching read.
Other recommendations for Finnish Literature: Since neither one of has read much Finnish literature, we are posting a few recommendations taken from a variety of sources including The Guardian.
The Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot: This is considered the great Finnish epic and grew out of the oral storytelling tradition. The work was assembled in the 1840s by scholar Elias Lönnrot.
The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna. One of the few Finnish books we have both read. I gave it 3.5 stars and Book Worm gave it 3 stars. I found it to be a fairly light and easy read that was quite humorous at times (part comedy part fantasy). It tells the story of Kaarlo Vatanen, a disillusioned journalist, who after nearly running over a hare with his car, decides to abandon his life and live with the hare in the wilderness.
Under the North Star by Väinö Linna. This novel is he first in a series. It is a family saga that depicts the development of Finnish society from the end of the 19th century to after the second World War and is considered a classic.
Purge by Sofi Oksanen. The novel follows two generations of women in Estonia during and after the Soviet occupation. IT won the European Book Prize and the Prix Femina Étranger.
Other Finnish authors include: Leena Krohn, Aleksis Kivi, Anita Konkka, Joel Lehtonen, Riikka Pulkkinen, Hannu Mäkelä and Frans Emil Sillanp.
We want to hear from you. Which are your favorite Finnish authors and why? Which books do you recommend?