Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Semi-autobiographical post-war time childhoods

1. Maan päällä paikka yksi on by Tuula-Liina Varis ("There is a place on Earth")

The novel begins when Leena is called to take a final look at the house she was born in before it will be demolished. Her parents long dead, she remembers her childhood through the objects still found in the now dilapidated building that has been taken over by bums and graffiti. The memories soon get mixed with the historical account of her family, starting with the matriarch who was born in the late 1800s. Mostly the story deals with Leena's childhood and how her family struggled in the post-war Finland: her father's inability to find a job with the experience he has and the modernizations that have made him obsolete, and her mother's disappointment in her family and her life in general. It reminded me so much of Pirkko Saisio's Elämänmeno, where an embittered wife reigns the household with sarcasm, passive-aggressive tones and violence, that I often forgot that I was reading a novel by someone else this time. There were so many similar elements, including that dialog was often written in dialect.

The title refers to an old song, that translates roughly thus:

There is a place on Earth
so holy, without comparison
that offers you safety in love
and hides the most precious happiness.

You know it's true only a mother's heart
is so tender and so warm
It rejoices when you rejoice
and worries over your pain

And so on. Of course, in the novel the mother's heart is anything but what the lyrics describe.

Although I understand that giving a lot of details about furniture and everyday activities of people the author can easily create a sense of nostalgia. I often felt nostalgia, but just as often I was also frustrated with the endless, American Psycho-like fetishization of any and all items from before the 1950s; items that were always often just listed. Beyond the listology of the story, it is a heartbreaking look at how regular families lead their lives after the men came back home from war.

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