Finland: No Escape from Melancholy

Sometimes it is quite hard to find a single book from a country, but it is indeed satisfying when I finally hold that book in my hand. The other challenge is when there is simple too many books to choose from. That is why one of the hardest choices I have made this far is the book from my native land, Finland. I decided a long time ago I will not touch a book about war, alcoholism, depression or loneliness. Harder than you’d think, but I’ve simple had enough of these subjects when it comes to Finland. There is however a book I’ve planned on reading for years and years, and I figured this would be the perfect time to read The Maid Silja: The History of the Last Offshoot of an Old Family Tree by Nobel Prize winner F.E. Sillanpää.

They say Silja sealed the deal, because the Nobel committee was charmed. I did not have any expectations regarding the book, I just dug into it. “Death came to Silja, a young and beautiful country girl, a week or so after Midsummer Day, when summer is still fresh and new”, this is how the story begins… “There, towards the end of her days, the girl was able to taste the incomparable joy of solitude”. There we have it, the melancholy and sadness of so many Finnish books. Apparently I can run from it, but I cannot hide.

The book begins with the story of Silja’s parents and their farm. Silja’s father passes away and they lose the farm. Silja ends up working as a maid at other farms. Silja did not lead the happy life she could have, because things went pretty much south in her life. As I said in the beginning I tried to avoid reading a book like this for this challenge. I also tried to avoid reading about war, but that did not happen either. Then again, I guess this is as Finnish as a book can get.

Silja had to grow up fast, because she became an orphan at 12. She played a small part in the revolution, and died of tuberculosis. Her life was otherwise not that exciting, but to be fair, few lead an exciting life in the beginning of the 20th century in Finland. Oh boy have times changed in 100 years. How many farm maids do we have left?

This is a melancholy book, written in a slow motion style, even the part about war feels so calm and centered. Back in the days death was so much more natural, and Silja’s siblings lead even shorter lives than she did. In my opinion back then people seemed to understand that this was a natural part of life. Granted medical science has taken massive leaps since then, but still, people just went on with their lives, because there was no other choice, whereas today people seem to freeze and end up having mental disorders after losing a child. It is of course one of life’s biggest tragedies, but the change in attitude has been enormous. This is something I have been trying to get my head around for awhile now. How can there have been such a massive change regarding this in such a short time? I guess society as a whole has changed in every way, and this is just one part of it.

The book gives a good overview of life on the Finnish countryside 100 years ago. Sillanpää’s writing shows that he belongs to the group of great writers who had a special connection with nature and the Finnish countryside. Sadly, right after I closed the book the story started fading away faster than anything that happened in the book. I would have hoped such a highly acclaimed book would have stayed on my mind longer. Definitely not a poorly written or a bad book, but it just wasn’t for me.

 

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