The speaker in this quotation, called “the man” throughout most of this novel, will repel every female reader – and most male readers – with his macho vulgarity, his unrelenting assessment of women in terms of their anatomy and sexual stamina, and his proud alcoholism. Boasting of his ability to consume seven bottles of vodka in his prime, he manages “only” two bottles a day on this trip to a new job site in construction in Mongolia. “The girl,” who has the great misfortune to be sharing a compartment with him on a trans-Siberian train traveling four thousand miles from Moscow to Ulan Bator, had hoped to be alone on this trip. Recovering from a personal crisis involving Mitka, a young friend on whom she had set her romantic sights but who is now hospitalized, the girl is making this trip almost as a memorial to him, since they had hoped to make the trip together. She had met him in Moscow in college, where she studied antiquities and anthropology for three years, and she is especially anxious to get to Mongolia now so that she can see the famous ancient petroglyphs there, some of them dating back to 12,000 B.C. So quiet and repressed that she makes only one or two statements during the entire trip, she is the complete opposite of Vadim, the man, with whom she has been fated to travel, destined to spend the trip fending off his advances. Considering the fact that neither of the main characters is one with whom the reader will identify to any great degree – Vadim because he is so disgustingly venal and the girl because she is so passive – author Liksom does a remarkable job of keeping the reader completely occupied during her novel. Vibrant pictures of life in the Soviet Union from the 1940s to the 1980s emerge as Vadim tells his life story in pieces throughout the trip, and the girl’s own life, though a bit confused and undirected, reflects some of the attitudes of young people and the reasons for her own lack of commitment.
Category Archive for 'Finland'
Elsa Ahlqvist is dying, something she learned only six months ago. A seventy-year-old psychologist married for fifty years to Martti, a well-known artist, Elsa is being attended at home by her physician daughter Eleonoora (Ella) and her granddaughters, Anna and Maria. As each member of the family reacts to Elsa’s declining health, the entire family dynamic unfolds. Elsa tries to keep the mood light, recreating the past and its happy memories. When her grandmother playfully suggests that they play “dress up,” as they once did, Anna goes to the closet and discovers, not the dress she used to wear when she pretended to be “Bianca from Italy,” but one which she has never seen. Anna soon learns that it belonged to Eeva, a stranger to her, who, she discovers, lived with her grandparents and mother for three years, over forty years ago. The characters’ behavior and emotional reactions to living together are explored with sensitivity, but since the story is told in retrospect, Eeva’s long term effects on the main characters’ lives are obvious to the reader from the beginning. There are, however, surprises, as the relationships with Eeva unfold, and lovers of psychological novels will not be disappointed.
The structure of a folk song, as author Monika Fagerholm describes it here, explains the overall structure of this novel, with many repetitions through time and space, through past and present, and through new generations and old. Points of view constantly change among the many characters as the chronology moves between 1969 and 2012 and back. Bits of information are provided about one character in one section at one moment in time, contradicted in another section, and denied completely in yet another. Different characters go to the same places at different times and perform the same actions, but the results may be described differently, and may actually be different, depending on who is telling the story. If this sounds complex, it is. Finnish author Monika Fagerholm challenges the very nature of story telling in this novel, which has, at its heart, a series of dark mysteries which echo through more than one generation.
A sanitorium set in Suvanto in rural Finland, sometime in the late 1920s, has drawn female patients from all Europe and America. The “up-patients,” primarily wealthy women who enjoy the specialized spa treatments and the chance to escape from their everyday lives for periods of up to six months, live on the top floor above those who are physically ill. The arrival of Julia Dey, a woman with a gynecological infection, changes the atmosphere from what it has been in the past. Julia is often mean-spirited and sometimes deliberately cruel. Julia sees this group as fair game and zeroes in on them. The novel is dark, almost claustrophobic in its intensity. The nauseating descriptions and language which the chaotic Julia Dey employs in her relationships stand in stark contrast to the author’s often beautifully lyrical descriptions of the weather as it changes with the seasons. Overall, the author’s purpose is not clear to me, however, and the novel is sometimes frustrating.