Sunday, 26 February 2017

Tuntematon sotilas - Väinö Linna

Started this book on our way to Helsinki
halfway through January.
'Ei tarvittu kuria, ei isänmaata, ei kunniaa eikä 
velvollisuudentuntoa. Noita kaikkia mahtavampi käskijä ruoski heitä eteenpäin. Kuolema.'

'They needed no discipline, no fatherland, no glory and no sense of duty. A commander stronger than all of those lashed them onwards. Death.'

Here's my main(?) Finnish book for the 100-year anniversary - four hundred-ish pages of a pure classic of the Continuation War of 1941-1944. I bought my boyfriend an English copy for Christmas and convinced him to buddy read it with me. I asked him to write about his thoughts too so I'll link that here after it's done 😀 (edit: here you go!) There's so much I want to say about this, so bear with me for a long review!

As mentioned, Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldiers) is about the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union, from point of view of the Finnish soldiers on the battlefield. Historical background is that the author, Väinö Linna, actually served in the war and wrote the book - fictional as it is - based more or less on his own experiences. You must admit that's pretty cool. By the way, we lost this war in a crude, horrible manner that wasn't pretty and just kind of depressed everyone. You should know that - this is also a bitter tale of loss. That's beautiful.

'Heidän kärsimyksensä oli yksin heidän. Kaiken muun he olivat saaneet luovuttaa. Heiltä oli vaadittu viimeinenkin hiukkanen, mutta kärsimyksensä he saivat pitää itse. Se ei kelvannut kenellekään.'

'Their suffering was theirs alone. Everything else they had had to give up. From them had been demanded even the last speck, but their suffering they got to keep for themselves. It wasn't good enough for anyone.'

Critics didn't enjoy the book all that much when it originally came out in 1954 because of the non-idealistic way it portrays the war and the current (political) environment, but the standard people still really liked it. (Same thing happened to another Finnish masterpiece, Aleksis Kivi's Seitsemän veljestä (The Seven Brothers), almost a hundred years earlier)

Anyway, I've been a bit apprehensive about reading this, as it's written with a heavy dialect that's difficult to describe to someone who's not Finnish. It's like Glaswegian, but written, if you're not even from Scotland, I suppose. Also, it's lengthy. But it's one of those books that's just so satisfying to read that I didn't mind working my way through it slow and steady.

Tuntematon sotilas is a very, very good book and incredibly deserving of its place as a beloved Finnish classic. As far as war novels go, it's very honest and realistic - it doesn't portray the cause as purely noble and the soldiers aren't only delighted to serve in the efforts. They don't always die as heroes and they're not always even remembered. They don't fall down in slow motion and say their last words tearfully. Sometimes they're crude and they swear and hate their uppers and want to go home. They die quickly and ruthlessly and that sincerity, in my mind, is the best thing this book has to offer.

Of course, the quality doesn't stop there. The book also describes humanity in all its beauty - how ugly and broken it is, and how it can rise from its own ashes, if that's not too poetic for this book. It's also very down-to-earth and incredibly Finnish in what it does, and since I'm very patriotic, I really enjoyed that side of it. There's also many named characters - almost all of them soldiers, of course - but all of them manage to seem very human. They also have a huge variety of political and ideological natures and different personalities, which is really great. As a war novel would have it, most of them don't stay with you for very long, but they still stayed with me long after they were gone. Some of them I liked, some of them I hated. All of them mattered.

All in all, this book was incredible. I enjoyed it more than I've enjoyed 95% of everything I've ever read, and I feel a sense of loss now that it's over. It certainly benefits from knowing about the history but even if you know nothing, it won't leave you cold. It deserves its place in history and I really hope more people will choose to read it internationally with the new English translation.

'Hän hymähti pari kertaa katkerasti, ei niinkään paljon valtiollisesta vihasta kuin sen vuoksi, että hänen kengässään oli hiekkaa, eikä hän voinut jäädä poistamaan sitä, koska olisi jäänyt toisista liian kauas.'

'He sneered a couple of times bitterly, not so much from a governmental anger as it was because he had sand in his shoe, and he couldn't stay to remove it, because he would have been left too far behind from the others.'

Cool story: I bought my copy from an antiquarian in Hämeenlinna a couple of years ago while on an adventure with my father. The shop was very cool and the owner so nice I talked to him for nearly an hour and then felt compelled to buy this book I had been eyeing. As you can probably see, it's a pocket size one, but also an anniversary edition for 60 years of independence - 40 years ago. So I think it's really cool. It has sentimental value, and lots of it. For the past month it's also come on many adventures with me. Oh, and the antiquarian moved fully online only a couple of months later - a bit of a shame but I'm really glad I got the chance to visit!
This book took too many cups of tea
to even count and this tea shop is also
where I finished it.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 3: A Finnish classic!

PS. If you ever decide to read this in English somehow, pick up the new 2015 translation by Liesl Yamaguchi. The old 1955 translation is all sorts of wrong, with many changes that have no basis in, well, anything.

'―Viipuri vallattu, kähisi hän eteenpäin, huomaamatta muuttaa äänensävyään, niin että edelläkulkeva mies sai ilmoituksen vihan pakahduttamalla äänellä, ikään kuin pahinta, mitä Lehto tiesi maailmassa olevan, olisi ollut Viipurin valtaus.'

'―Viipuri has been taken, he croaked ahead, without noticing to change his tone of voice, so that the man walking in front of him got the announcement in a voice bursting with hatred, as if the worst thing which Lehto knew in the world had been Viipuri being taken.'

Friday, 24 February 2017

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling

'Hermione was now teaching Krum to say her name properly. He kept calling her 'Ermion. 
"Her-mi-o-ne" she said, slowly and clearly.
"Close enough," she said, catching Harry's eye and grinning.'

I picked this quote because that's how it goes with most of my university encounters. Close enough. It made me chuckle.

So, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is my latest 'listening while walking to uni and back to make it a bit more productive' book, and as far as Harry Potters go, it's undoubtedly my favourite so far. (Though I still love Chamber of Secrets as a movie, nostalgia trip) At first it was a little intimidating at 21 hours, but it was a lot of walks well spent!

Kind of pointless mayhaps to summarise these plots but maybe my mum will read this or something, so here goes: Harry Potter goes back to Hogwarts for year another year of wizarding studies. This time the academic year is made all the more exciting by the Triwizard tournament. Only those over the age of 17 are supposed to be allowed entry into the dangerous tournament, but when someone enters Harry into it, he's forced to compete. And whoever it was obviously didn't do it as a favour.

This book was what I've been waiting for while reading these (and I might have mentioned this before, too); the book that'll make me go, so that's why everyone loves these books. Goblet of Fire was very interesting and well-written and just generally all around a very very good book. The tasks of the Triwizard tournament are exciting and just strange enough so that you don't really know what's going to happen next. Additionally, the side plots are interesting and serve the core of the book well. This world feels so alive, and more so with each addition to it (except Fantastic Beasts, I still don't really agree with that).

The tone of this book is darker than in the previous ones, and from what I understand it's the direction the works from here on will take. That's pretty exciting, as the more mature tone really did this work justice.

I don't know what else to say. This book is great. Read it if you haven't yet.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 29: A book's main character can do something which you would like to learn (magic, obviously!).

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Charisma - Jeanne Ryan


This book was so dull it put me off writing about it for nearly two weeks after finishing it. That bad.

Charisma is from the same author as Nerve, which apparently isn't all that good. It is, however, a basis for a movie from last year that was pretty enjoyable on its own right. So when Charisma, with its colourful 'from the author of Nerve' cover (right there on the right) started popping up at Waterstones and the synopsis sounded interesting enough, I thought I could check if it's really that bad.

Well that was a mistake, clearly.

The idea of the book is this: Aislyn has suffered from crippling shyness all her life, and would do anything to be more outgoing, so that she could live her life. When the anything comes in the form of an experimental drug called Charisma, she jumps at the opportunity. For a moment, she has everything; fame, popularity, charm, love. Soon, however, she comes to discover that you can't have your cake and eat it too, as the side effects prove to be dangerous, even fatal.

There's also this side plot that's supposed to have you wondering whether gene therapy is ethical or not, but all I could think of was how Charisma tried to seem all smart and deep, without any of the work or thought that normally goes into being either of these things.

The execution of the whole books is one of the worst ones I can imagine. Just for the plot, I have dozens of ideas of making it more tolerable, even good. That doesn't even start to cover the dull writing style...

Aislyn as a character is quite plain with the whole 'too shy to live' thing, but after the side effects kick in (this is around 1/3 in so the idea itself isn't all too fleshed out), she becomes downright tolerable. You'd be surprised to learn just how much a person can whine and cry and complain after (briefly, sure) getting everything they've ever wanted. Also, my empathy was further reduced by her knowingly taking the drug, acknowledging it's experimental and there might be side effects and even signing a consent form(!!!). So I didn't really feel for her.

Her best friend's name I've already forgotten, but she was the opposite of Aislyn in nature; outgoing, happy, brave. She also abandoned Aislyn when she really needed her to hang out with her new boyfriend, so that was nice.

Aislyn also has a super dull boyfriend, John or Jack or something. He's basically there so that Aislyn could complain some more about maybe dying in the future, just when she's so happy (although all the complaining she did could have fooled me).

All in all, this was the dullest thing I've read in a while (I'm at university, too!). I think I should stick to less obviously bad books for a change.

For Helmet 2017 I put this in category 10: A book with a beautiful cover (mostly because that's the only compliment I can give this book...)

PS. Apparently I didn't pick up a single quote while reading this. Yes, that bad.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

In Order To Live - Yeonmi Park

'This is my story of the choices I made in order to live.'

This book was incredibly moving. Interesting, also. I obviously have very standard subpar knowledge of North Korea, the standard stuff most people know but rarely stop to think about. I know and acknowledge that life must be awful there, but it's not common I actually consider what this means for the people.

In Order To Live is the story of a young girl who at thirteen starts the most difficult journey to escape her North Korean home, Hyesan in the north near the Chinese border. Yeonmi Park tells a powerful, painful story about her own life that must have been difficult to get into paper or even remember, and I think she's incredibly brave to do so. She describes in a very honest manner how she felt and what happened to her, which is very humbling to read. She's what she never aimed to be, a role model and an ambassador, and a voice for her people.

The story is split into three parts; Yeonmi's time in North Korea, China and finally South Korea. The first one is obviously the longest and perhaps the hardest, but it doesn't get any easier even when you think it would. In the 1990s, the government in North Korea stopped being able to provide its citizens with food because they stopped receiving Soviet support. Yeonmi Park was born in 1993, so she's of the generation named after the black market, Jangmadang. These younger people may not quite share the blind faith their elders had for the government and their fearless leader, but they're far from free. In the book, Yeonmi describes how she believed that the leader could read her mind, and was always afraid to even think bad things of the country. These old habits die hard, especially considering all western media and entertainment is banned in North Korea, and even every school subject and songs and books are filled with propaganda.

Kudos to the Kindle edition for including
these photos like in the paperback, they
really bring this story to life.
The book is incredibly informative, considering it also tells a cohesive story. You can tell that since she fled North Korea, Yeonmi has really absorbed other cultures and stories, because the book clearly understands what parts of the culture are interesting to people outside of its reach. I learned so many curious and deeply worrying details about this undemocratic country through reading this book, yet I never felt like I was being lectured or straight-up taught anything. Yeonmi has also clearly learned a lot about critical thinking (a practice obviously forbidden in North Korea) since she fled, because she is able to say things about herself I would perhaps never be humble or brave enough to admit.

The story told in this book is raw and cruel and horrible, but it's also a story about humanity. The author has gone through the most terrible places and situations only to find that there is more to life than just surviving. There's also kindness and purity and good. I truly believe she's accomplished a lot if only by telling her story to people, but I also hope it's brought her some peace. She's only two years older than me today, and less and less so throughout the book to the beginning. I can't imagine going through what she has, but it is inspiring. I'm grateful that she has decided to share this story with us, and hopefully it will make a change in the world.

It's a bit odd to rate a story that's based on truth, but if not for the events themselves, then for the information, the thoughts and the bravery, I'd like to give this one a full five out of five. I don't see a reason not to recommend it unless you are a bit like my mum and feel the need to carry the sadness of the whole world on your shoulders. If you want to know what life and escape is like at least for some North Koreans today, this book is very interesting.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this book in category 40: A book by a writer who comes from a different (from yours) culture.