7. Peter-Peter by Aila Meriluoto
Peter-Peter is an epistolary novel, where a story of two immigrants in Sweden unfolds through Finnish librarian's, Sanna's, letters. The first letter approaches Peter to request his presence in a literature event, him being a well-known author in addition to his daytime job as a doctor. Sanna, a widow and a mother of two teenagers, takes a leap and begins a very personal correspondence with Peter, whose letters the reader never sees.
Whenever the two meet, the missing letters are filled in from Sanna's personal journal entries and her attempts at novelizing her affair with this married doctor.
Although the premise may not seem that earth-shattering, bear in mind that this is based on a true story of the author's experiences. The further we get into the story, the more reality begins to intervene, combined with possible law suits if "Sanna" would ever publish Peter's letters. The book ends with about 10 pages of Sanna's stream of consciousness written in dialect, her trying to rationalize to her therapist what happened between her and Peter, and how she could go about publishing their story without fears of retribution.
What an odd read! This will definitely go under the "social porn" tag in my Goodreads account...
8. 27 eli kuolema tekee taiteilijan by Alexandra Salmela ("27, or, Death Makes an Artist")
This book garnered a lot of attention last year as it was a Finlandia Prize candidate. Thing is, usually only Finnish citizens can become candidates for this prestigious award and oops--Alexandra Salmela is not a citizen. After much debate, the jury decided to let her stay in the competition and while she did not win this particular prize, her acceptance into it is a great testament to immigrant, non-native Finnish speaker writers (and Finnish learners!).
I'm very glad that her novel gained all this attention, because it's great. It's hilarious, ironic, self-deprecating and stylistically adventurous. There's something fresh in this book that I cannot pinpoint. It really is like nothing I have read in a long while.
The story goes like this: Angie, a student majoring in Finnish in Prague, wants to do something remarkable before she turns 28, which is the gateway age to boredom according to her. She painstakingly lists all legendary musicians who have died at age 27, and records what she is doing at the same age as them. She attempts writing a screenplay for a TV show, a radio play and finally settles on a novel about Finns. She goes to live on her professor's relatives' cabin in Middle of Nowhere, Finland, where the same yard is shared by a Finnish family: three children, an unemployed, ass-crack showing dad and an eco-maniac, tote-bag making mother.
The story gently mocks Finns, but it also mocks people who have stereotypical views of Finns. Sometimes it's hard to tell which form is being employed in the novel, because the stereotypes come way too close to reality.
If you've been reading this blog, you know that I'm a sucker for unreliable narrators (like the one in Monika Fagerholm's American Girl) and guess what--this one has its share of them, too! They are not unreliable in the sense that they want to explicitly lie to the reader: it's just that their view on other people is affected by their cultural background and their own, personal problems. The only completely reliable narrator is the family's car, who records only what people sitting in the car are saying without adding any emotions to them. In addition, the car painstakingly records all the actions from looking through the rearview mirror and turning the lights on to how a typical Finn parks a car (Step on clutch, change gear to one, roll forward while keeping the clutch down and braking. Brake to a stop and pull the handbrake up. Switch off engine).
Besides Angie and the car, other narrators include the family toddler's toy pig (who is ridiculously positive and naive) and the stray cat who roams around in the yard.
As with Peter-Peter, sometimes events can be interpreted only from Angie's exaggerated novelized versions of them, and the reader is left to decide what the underlying truth is.
A fun story that I want to read again at some point, because I feel like I missed a lot of subtleties during the first read.
6 months ago