In Search of a Revolution
I was drawn to this book by the setting – I have read some Finnish folklore, and a little about contemporary Finland, but there are huge gaps in my knowledge of recent Finnish history.
In that respect, the story is excellent. It traces the fortunes of Finland through the eyes of four representative individuals, spanning the turbulent years from 1917 to the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. During this time, Finns took up opposing political sides in the twentieth century clash between Soviet communism and right wing fascism. The nation’s wounds were slow to heal. Three of the people are foreign immigrants, and themes of estrangement and the quest for home are woven right through the book.
Although the author says he tried to avoid “a fictionalised retelling of history”, I felt the presentation of history was actually the author’s strongest skill. The characters in the book are a little flat, their dialogue formal rather than lively, and they are best seen as representative types rather than individuals. As such, they make perfect sense. Their youthful passion for causes is steadily eroded by pains and disappointments, and by the breakdown of social cohesion. Like so much of twentieth century Europe, they never achieve the ideals they aim for.
The book treads a line between optimism and sorrow. The four main characters can never achieve real intimacy, but their friendship survives – just – the challenges that threaten it. They mirror society’s growing craving for stability, and the longing for a place out of the limelight to recover balance. Can individual relationships ever fulfil the human need for social or communal life? All in all, a fascinating window into this place and time, though slightly diminished for me by the very plain style in which it is written.