nineteen.

the Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyrö (2011)
 In order to earn easy money and buy his son a pair of football boots, Vatanescu from Romania,  signs a contract with a Russian human trafficker, Yegor Kugar, who quickly puts him on the streets of Helsinki as a beggar. Vatanescu is crafty and discovers that a lot of edible food is thrown into dumpsters and is feasting on the food when Yegor discovers it. Yegor is furious and sacks Vatanescu, but Vatanescu fights back and runs away with a lot of money.

And then Vatanescu saves the rabbit from a group of angry men. Together they travel through Finland, wherever their luck takes them.

The story is entertaining and I really felt sorry for Vatanescu and really hoped that he finally could buy those football shoes for his son. And it was also interesting to read the narrative of Yegor. It became disappointing towards the end, and I think the part about the political party was a bit too much over the top. But I forgave everything when I came to the last page. Perfect ending.

I stumbled upon this book at Waterstones in Edinburgh and it was the perfect companion to three meals and many glasses of wine. The Beggar and the Hare is a modern rewrite of the Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna, where Vatanen injures a hare and then they go into the Finnish wilderness together. I read that book six years ago while living in Finland and I really enjoyed it. Read it before reading this.

forty-eight.

Jordmora by Katja Kettu (2011)
(Kätilö)

Villøye is the midwife in Petsamo during World War II, and the place is crawling with German soldiers. Villøye falls in love with one of the soldiers, Johannes, and although he has got another girl pregnant, she follows him to a POW Camp with Soviet prisoners where she becomes a nurse. But the war is at its turning point, and Villøye and Johannes have to flee and they end up in an isolated hut in a remote Norwegian fjord.
Ohmygodthisbook! It has everything and so much more. It gives an excellent portrait of the complex Barents region, and the terrible war which devastated the area. It is a gruesome story, and really shows how people deal with the worst situations. And the choices Villøye makes have terrible consequences.

I really liked the language in the book, and the way it’s a mix of Finnish, Russian and Sami words in the translation. And it’s always interesting to read about the place where you hail from. I really regret that I gave up on learning Finnish because I’m really curious how this is in its original language. The translator, Turid Farbrergd, did a hell of a job and I have learnt so many new words. I also got a better picture of what it was like during the war, and I definitely need to read more about the war in the Barents region.

I hope it will be translated into English soon. If you get a chance, read it! It is definitely the best book I have read this year and on the list of my favourites and I already need to read it again. And Katja Kettu is an author I will definitely read more of. 

Ps: I think Villøye might be the horniest woman I have come across so far in literature, and I love it!

fifty-one.

Baby Jane by Sofi Oksanen (2005)
 What is wrong with Piki? She used to be an outgoing person, had plenty of friends and partied all night. And now she isn’t capable of buying groceries or even take out the trash. Her girlfriend tries everything, but watches Piki slowly fading. They start a successful business together; providing phone sex and shipping used underwear to their customers. Their relationship is dwindling and it doesn’t get better when the girlfriend discovers that Piki’s ex is doing the laundry and shopping for her.

Sofi knows how to get each sentence to punch you in the guts. I was only able to read a couple of pages a night because they are all so heavily loaded with emotions. And as the story unfolds and you get to know more about Piki and the girlfriend, you know it’s not going to end well. But still there are plenty of surprises.

It could easily have been a perfect read, but the last couple of paragraphs ruined it. It reminded me of all the stories of my students which are nicely built-up and then end terribly because they run out of time.

I’m still amazed that only one book by Sofi has been translated into English. Luckily they are found in many other languages.

eighty.

At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura (2005)


Kristina, 12, lives in a small town on the Finnish-Swedish border in 1979. She knows more dead people than alive. Almost all were suicides. Those who are left are barely alive, drinking too much and looking for ways to escape the village. She has a boyfriend, Kari, and they spend their time smoking, drinking and hoping that the train would run them over when walking on the tracks.

Such a dark, twisted novel and very typical Finland. The mix between real world and Kristina’s imagination was confusing, same with the mix of past and present. I probably should read it one more time, maybe things get less confusing then. What I do know is that the writing was definitely very good in the beginning and then it all got really confusing, and guessing the end was easy. But Maria Peura has a lot of potential, and I will definitely be reading books by her in the future.

seventy-six.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen (2008)

Aliide finds a girl right outside her door in a small village in Estonia. The girl doesn’t have many clothes on and is missing one shoe. What is she doing there? Could she be a decoy for gangs trying to rob her house?

The girl is Zara, from Vladivostok.. She has escaped from the men who forced her to sell sex in Berlin. And there is a reason why she is outside Aliide’s door, they are related. Aliide remembers what happened in her village during World War II, when she was secretly in love with her sister’s husband who were in the Estonian resistance army , but married a high ranked Communist party member in Estonia.

I’m sort of disappointed with this book. Every word of it is great, but there are so many gaps. There are two main questions I have after reading it; how did Zara get to Berlin from Vladivostok? And Aliide, what did you do?

sixty.

Stalin’s Cows by Sofi Oksanen (2003)
(Stalinin lehmät)

Anna is half-Finnish and half-Estonian. Her mother is Estonian, takes her there often during the 1980s, when it still was Soviet. But her mother won’t let Anna be Estonian, because Estonian women are whores in the west. Anna’s father is rarely present, he still works in Soviet, but every time he comes home, Anna’s mum finds new evidence concerning his whores. Anna won’t allow her body to be more than 50 kgs.

This book has yet not been published in English, but it definitely should be. Oksanen’s third novel, however, Purge, has been published in English and it is my next purchase for sure.

It was really hard to read about Anna who suffered from bulimia. If I had read this a few years ago, it would have been thinspiration. But now it was like being haunted by a bad memory; all the rules, lies and feelings came back, so much of Anna was at some time me. But it is also a reminder of how far I have come and for that reason alone, I’m glad I read this book.

The Estonian part of the story is also a reason why I’m glad I have read it. It partially follows Anna’s mother from when she met Anna’s father and until Estonia’s independence. And it also goes further back than that, back to World War II. It is a beautiful portrait of the fear and absurdity in Soviet. And the attitude in the west towards people, and especially women, from the former Soviet. And it made me miss Finland and regret that I never learnt the language.

(This is without doubt the hardest and most personal post I have made and I have the urge to delete parts of it, but I’m trying to be brave.)

eighteen.

Den senile landmåleren by Arto Paasilinna (1991)
(Elämä lyhyt, Rytkönen Pitkä)


Originally written in Finnish, translated to Norwegian, hopefully to English one day. A cabdriver picks up a demented old man one day and together they go on an adventure into the Finnish north. At last, after a lot of drunkenness and debauchery, they end up at farm owned by the old man’s friend from the Winter War. The friend is tired of being a farmer so they plan to leave the farm, but destroy it completely before departure.

Arto Paasilinna is one of my favourite authors. He has written over 30 books, but only a very few are available in other languages than Finnish. I’m therefore seriously thinking about picking up a book in Finnish and read it with a lot of help from my Finnish-English dictionary and grandma as a summer project. The Year of the Hare and the Howling Miller have been published in English and I highly recommend both of them. Paasilinna manages to capture the Finnish people and nature with a touch of magic realism in a brilliant way. And the books are hilarious, yet often have a more serious message between the lines. This man deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature!