- Paperback: 196 pages
- Publisher: Dedalus Limited; Reprint edition (Sept. 1 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 190351794X
- ISBN-13: 978-1903517949
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.3 x 19.7 cm
- Shipping Weight: 200 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
#526,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #32127 in Literary
New Finnish Grammar Paperback – Sep 1 2011
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About the Author
Diego Marani was born in Ferrara in 1959. He works as a senior linguist for the European Union in Brussels. Every week he writes a column for a Swiss newspaper about current affairs in Europanto, a language that he has invented. He has also published in France a collection of short stories in Europanto. In Italian he has published six novels, the most recent being L'Amico della Donna
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
My name is Petri Friari, I live at no. 16 Kaiser-Wilhelmstrasse, Hamburg and I work as a neurologist at the city's university hospital.
I found this manuscript on 24 January 1946 in a trunk in the military hospital in Helsinki, together with a sailor's jacket, a handkerchief with the letters S.K. embroidered on it, three letters, a volume of the Kalevala and an empty bottle of koskenkorva. It is written in a spare, indeed broken and often ungrammatical Finnish, in a school notebook where pages of prose alternate with lists of verbs, exercises in Finnish grammar and bits cut out from the Helsinki telephone directory. Some pages are illegible, others contain just sequences of words without any apparent logic, drawings, foreign names, and headlines taken from the "Helsingin Sanomat. Often the narrative proceeds by way of scraps cut out from newspapers, repeated each time a similar situation occurs, and fleshed out by others, in a wide variety of linguistic registers. My knowledge of the facts which lay behind this document has enabled me to reconstruct the story that it tells, to rewrite it in more orthodox language and to fill in some of the gaps. I myself have often had to intervene, adding linking passages of my own to tie up unrelated episodes. Adjectives left in the margins, nouns doggedly declined in the more complex cases of the Finnish language, all traced the outlines of a story which was well-known to me. In this way I have been able to coax these pages to yield up something that they were struggling in vain to tell. Using the scalpel of memory, I carved out words which ached like wounds I had believed to be long healed. Since I bore witness to many of the events and conversations recorded here, I have been able to piece them accurately together. In this I was greatly helped by Miss Ilma Koivisto, a nurse in the military medical corps who, like myself, was personally acquainted with the author of these pages.
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We are near the end of the Second World War. A sailor, gravely injured, shows up in a hospital in Trieste. He has lost all memory and even the ability to speak. The only clue to his identity is the jacket he is wearing which bears the inscription, Sampo Karjaleinan, a Finnish name. The doctor treating him happens to be a Finnish exile, desperately guilty at abandoning his homeland as well as acutely homesick. He begins to teach the sailor Finnish and arranges for him to be sent back to Helsinki (which itself is at war with the mighty Soviet Union.)
There Sampo meets a Lutheran pastor Olof Koskela, who continues his linguistic education while teaching him the roots of Finnish identity and culture with special emphasis on the national epic, the Kalevala. The question is, can the pastor, as well as teaching Sampo Finnish, also teach him to be a Finn? Can he restore to a man without memory a sense of personal and national identity?
Memory, the author tells us, is inseparable from words which draw things out of the shadows. The Finnish word for the Bible, we're told, is the same as the word for grammar. And Finnish grammar is notoriously knotty and impenetrable with its numerous declensions and conjugations unknown in other tongues.
But Sampo's memory consists only of the words he has learned. The narrator reflects that he is an incomplete man and therefore incapable of accepting the love that is offered to him. He inhabits a body without a heart. The nurse who offers him affection tells him that he should look to the future instead of searching for a past. Forgetting has its own advantages. Memories, once forgotten, can no longer harm us. And yet Sampo continues to search for some trace of who he was. A man without a country is a man without an identity.
It's quite astounding to think that this novel was actually written by an Italian -- but that provides an extra layer of irony because he seems so thoroughly immersed in Finnish culture, language and identity. Just the fact that a non-Finn wrote this book seems to argue against its central thesis.
As I said, a lot of ideas to explore -- but not much of a story involving real humans.
During WWII a man is found near the exploded wreck of a Finnish gunboat. He has total amnesia. The doctor who treats him assumes, for several reasons, that he is Finnish and sends him to a friend in Finland hoping to retrieve his memory. But the man, now named Sampo, remains rootless, homeless and lonely. He painfully learns Finnish, he's introduced to the ethic culture of Finland via the Kalavala, he finds a sort of love But, as indicated in the Prologue so this is not a spoiler - he's not from Finland.
Marani does a splendid job of portraying a man without a past, seeking his past, scared and lonely and completely outside of his element without a clue about where to go. Finnish is unfamiliar to most readers so Sampo's disconnect is well transmitted.