In honour of Finnish independence, I decided to recommend some excellent Finnish literature. According to Google Analytics, only about half of my visitors are from Finland, so I suspect many people may not know much about Finland’s love affair with the written word. If you are looking for some good Christmas gifts, here are some ideas for you.
1) The Kalevala. This is the Finnish national epic, which was compiled and edited by Elias Lönnrot and first published in 1835. The book is a series of songs telling the folklore and mythology of Finland. Think of it like Finland’s version of The Iliad or The Odyssey. It is filled with adventures and love stories and characters as memorable as Ulysses or Achilles. There have been several translations over the years, but I think my favourite is Keith Bosley’s. However, you can also find some free out-of-copyright translations at places such as Project Gutenberg and Amazon.
2) The Unknown Soldier. Väinö Linna’s Continuation War classic has defined the characteristics of some Finns. It follows a machine gun company made up of people of different backgrounds as they fight against the Soviets during World War II. Yes, you can expect the battle scenes like in any war novel, but what I like most about The Unknown Soldier is the interaction between characters, especially between officers and enlisted men. In fact, many Finnish business leaders use this book as a guide on how to manage Finns.
3) Purge. I absolutely adore Sofi Oksanen’s book Purge, which follows some women in Estonia under the Soviet occupation. It has been the biggest hit of Finnish literature, both at home and abroad, for many years. It outsold Dan Brown‘s The Da Vinci Code in France, if that tells you anything. Purge has achieved a life of its own, which includes adaptions for both the stage and screen. It has also won basically every literature prize available in the Nordic region. Some of the Finnish literati have been less-than-impressed with the book – perhaps simply because of its popularity – but I love it, even though I also have a strong snobbish streak at times. Oksanen’s newest, When the Doves Disappeared, just got an English publisher. I can’t wait to read it. I’m such an Oksanen fan that I’ve purposefully avoided her at some literature events because I was afraid I might blurt out a marriage proposal or something. That would be awkward.
4) Under the North Star. Also by Väinö Linna, this trilogy is a prequel to The Unknown Soldier. It starts with some of the most iconic lines in Finnish literature: ‘In the beginning there were the swamp, the hoe – and Jussi.’ These books follow a Finnish family through the struggles of societal upheaval. The life of a tenant farmer was fascinating, and I loved the portrayal of a family fighting with their neighbours during a civil war.
5) The Egyptian. Mika Waltari’s book is a historical novel which follows Sinuhe, an Egyptian physician during the tumultuous time of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Akhenaten is often claimed to have been the first monotheist king and attempted to change the traditional religion of Egypt. It follows many of the historical novel tropes – lots of travel, a first-person narrator close to people in power – but it is still a fine book.