This historical fiction novel is set in Viena, an area located between Russia and Finland. It follows the lives and loves of Anna-Liisa, her best friend, Anja, and her errant grandfather, Ilja, returned after many years from Canada where he “struck it rich.” The lives of the peace loving inhabitants of Viena are squeezed between the extremist and militant “white” forces of Finland and the revolutionary “red” forces influenced by Czarist Russia. The story is about their quest for survival in this conflict, which became the Finnish Civil War of 1918.
Two things struck me immediately about this novel: the hardiness of the Finnish people and the omnipresence of saunas. As I read on, the beauty of the countryside also fascinated me. What I encountered as I read, was a culture that flourished in long cold winters, an environment that I, living in a moderate Mediterranean climate, consider harsh and unforgiving.
The book is an English translation of an original work by the Finnish best-selling author, Hietamies. It’s wonderfully crafted, yet easy to read. The balance between narration, in third-person omniscient and dialogue made the story move forward while creating realistic images of the characters and comprehensive descriptions of the scenes.
The author is Laila Hietamies and the translation was done by Börje Vähämäki.
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