New FInnish Grammar

New Finnish Grammar
by Diego Marani
Italian – 2000 –  US 2011
196 pgs –
Rating 9.5


Oh boy –  I had been wondering if I’d actually like this book.  Being 1/2 Finnish heritage I was really impelled to read it.  I knew it wasn’t originally written in Finnish or by a Finlander but still – it had great reviews and I just got so curious.

So now I’m about 1/3 through and so far it’s fabulous.

The book opens with a Prologue written by a Doctor Friari  who found the pages of what appears to be a journal,  a sailor’s jacket and a handkerchief marked with SK,  along with a volume of the Kalevela and a bottle of  koskenkorva in a trunk in a military hospital in Finland.  The doctor is presenting the pages of the journal to us.  He also adds quite a lot of his own commentary throughout the book,  explaining what the pages are, their legibility,  the letters,  etc.

The actual journal by SK (Sampo Karjalainen)  begins in Chapter 1,  “Return to Helsinki.”
“Doctor Friari’s eyes were the first living thing I saw emerging out of nothingness.”

A man is found in Trieste Italy during the end of WWII.  He seems to have total amnesia but is wearing a jacket with the name Sampo Karjalainen written into the collar.  This would seem to indicate a Finnish origin for the man.  Well,  possibly not only that …

“In Finnish mythology, the Sampo or Sammas was a magical artifact of indeterminate type constructed by Ilmarinen that brought good fortune to its holder. When the Sampo was stolen, it is said that Ilmarinen’s homeland fell upon hard times and sent an expedition to retrieve it, but in the ensuing battle it was smashed and lost at sea.”

The last name, Karjalainen,  is a very common Finnish surname.

I am really enjoying this book but I’m afraid the theme may be somewhat over my head –  it’s about identity and memory and the connection of language  (lots of literary type themes available there).   This is also a quest story – one man’s search for himself.

I am reminded of two books – The English Patient by Micael Ondaatje and The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson – the search for identity part in both,  memory in the Ondaatje book.  I don’t quite remember if either book dealt with language.

BUT!  It looks like I’m going to have some problems with some of these ideas.   At location 1669/ about 69% we find the sentence:

“Memory is inseparable from words. Words draw things out of the shadows. Learn the words and you will recover your memory…”

Oh balderdash – you need memory to learn a language and that’s not the only thing –  dogs have memory,  they remember smells and tastes and sounds – they don’t have language.  Man at one point was probably similar (maybe as a chimp?) and developed language because he had something more than memory – the physical attributes which make different sounds possible, for one thing.

Moving along – I am fascinated by the relationship of the Kalevala to Finland’s experience with Russia.

Great review at “readramble

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