The Burnt-out Town of Miracles
When his village is evacuated by the Finnish army, Timo Vatanen, a village idiot who makes his living as a woodcutter, refuses to leave. As Timo is confirmed a fool by his fleeing countrymen, he muses, “At such moments it is difficult to know whether you are changing or just learning to understand yourself.” When the Russian army sets up camp in his village, Timo remains and plays the fool to his captors, secretly acting as caretaker to the villagers’ homes and savior to an odd assortment of Russian men pressed into service by the Russian army. But when the war is over, Timo is finally driven from his home when neither he nor the returning villagers understand his actions during the war.
Plagued for years by confusion and shame, Timo concludes that “everyone has the right to be a hero in his own life.” He decides to discover the truth about Finland’s Winter War and the fate of his Russian companions. Artfully translated from Norwegian, Jacobsen’s novel is an internal narrative of survival, friendship and loss with the war serving as little more than a backdrop. It is the kind of story that stays with the reader long after he has put it down, like a hauntingly beautiful melody that cannot be shaken.