Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Myöhempien aikojen pyhiä by Juha Itkonen

"Surely you must be homesick, at least a little," said Kalevi's wife. "How are you doing, a young man so far away from his mother?"
I didn't reply. Not sure if I would have had the opportunity; Mark didn't allow it.
"David has no family," Mark said, in a sympathetic voice meant to convey an unfortunate fact. Blind have no eyes, deaf have no ears, crippled have no limbs, and Mark has no heart. Mark's heart is beating dead air. Dear God, please forgive me. 

Back in Finland, my friend and I had a chat with a Mormon missionary who had been lucky enough to be sent to a small town not too far from the Russian border. This young Mormon wasn't even trying to convert anyone at this point: Finland was both too secular and culturally Lutheran. But if we'd just come to one of these parties she (yes, she!) was organizing at the local Mormon church she'd be happy. It really didn't sound like a ploy; she seemed genuinely lonely. I think my friend ended up going.

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of Itkonen's Latter Day Saints--the fictional alienation and soul-searching of a young Mormon man sent to a small Finnish town--but that one encounter I had does not refute it, either.

In this story, David is sent to Finland with another, more passionate Mormon, Mark. While Mark furiously corresponds with Gabriel, an anonymous doubting Thomas online, David has doubts of his own--what kind of a god would lead him to temptation, kill his parents, or make him fall in love when it so obviously was a sin in his case. Among the quiet Finns David can keep his secrets safe, but only until his refusal to express the anguish he obviously carries begins to cause worry even among the most solemn of natives.

Sometimes I read Finnish books just to be reminded what it is like to be in a Finnish mindset: the way paragraphs are constructed, or the way a story is told, is often enough to transport me there even if the topic at hand is not restricted to Finnish culture.

In Latter Day Saints Itkonen reverses this: while his storytelling methods do not appear exclusively Finnish, he has delightfully hidden Finnish customs behind a shroud of mystery, experienced for the first time by two Americans and told through their view point. Like an in-joke, I could decipher these mysteries that the protagonists couldn't, yet at the same time I understood why they'd seem strange to people who weren't born and raised in the country.

In addition to enjoying a beautifully written story it's good to look into yourself every now and then through someone else's eyes.