Finland, Pakistan and Hungary – The Defenceless – Kati Hiekkapelto

KATI-BOOK

Why a booktrail?

Finland has many different sides to it that most of us will never see….

Story in a nutshell

Police investigator Anna Fekete is brought in to investigate when an old man, wearing pyjamas, is found dead on the road. Gabriella, the girl who ran him over is Hungarian and speaks no Finnish so Anna has to try and remember her lapsed Hungarian.

As the investigation continues however, it soon becomes clear that this case is a whole lot more than a car accident. The man’s appartment block seems to be a haven for all sorts of goings on from drug dealing to illegal immigrants.

Anna’s partner Esko is also involved in a  similarly dubious investigation and it’s not long before the two cases merge with dangerous consequences for all.

Place and setting

A Finnish thriller with a unique tour of locations...The town in Finland where Anna works and lives has no name and it is fictional. It could be Oulu though, the town where Kati was born.
A Finnish thriller with a unique tour of locations…The town in Finland where Anna works and lives has no name and it is fictional. It could be Oulu though, the town where Kati was born.

Who would have thought that one apartment building gin the centre of a Finnish city could be so ‘varied’? A microcosm of so many nationalities, society problems and a haven of the city’s underbelly.

The issues which result from this apartment, from this city are made up of various issues which live side by side in this cramped and cold world. Issues such as cultural dislocation – where a person is forced to leave their entire world, their life and some part of their identity behind in order to start a new life, to escape religious or some other kind of persecution.

Pakistan

Sammy is one such person whose application to stay in Finland has been rejected. Having lost his family, his only comfort now is heroin and Subutex. A desperately cold and isolating place to be.

Sammy’s story is particularly moving. He’s ran from his homeland, a refugee from the persecuted Christian minority in Pakistan, and thought nothing more of than ‘cargo’ in much the same way as the drugs are which come in from the same truck –

Hidden in a truck belching  thick exhaust fumes and driven across the endless steppes of Russia illegally.

He is forced to go underground in order to survive in the best and only way he can. His spiral downwards into hell is all too tragic and realistic and the people he comes across in this world are not the kind you would ever want to meet yourself.

Hungary

Anna  is also an outsider ( a Croat of Hungarian origin who came to Finland as a child to escape the war in Yugoslavia) but from the other side of the track. An immigrant yes but also a police officer. Her view of the world and of her adopted country are different to those she serves. Still somewhat of an outsider however, she has a unique view of them and how she fits in, and how the changes in her home country are unsettling on so many levels. When her brother returns to Hungary (and it’s how and why he leaves that are important) Anna is once again faced with feelings of how her life was then compared to how it is now.

Review

A crime novel with a difference. Not your typical Nordic Noir as it is much more multilayered and complex which elevates it to a whole new level. The characters and setting from the Hummingbird are back but this is a whole new meaning of the word ‘ underbelly’

Anna is a fascinating character. Where does she fit it and how can she settle in Finland when her own identity and that of her country keeps changing. Even the name of the country continues to change. Such a background gives her empathy and understanding but a whole other set of problems which I found very interesting. Just how do you work to help people like Sammy and solve crimes when your own story is just as tangled?

The problems faced by Finland are of course problems which cross borders and these are all very topical subjects at the moment which makes this novel particularly timely.

Anna has some tough issues to deal with – alcohol being one of the most confused – for her own brother returns to Hungary and her role of helping Gabriella and Sammy are fraught with conflict.

Immigrants and drug gangs,  not to mention the cold and biting weather makes for one heck of a backdrop to a complex and ultimately satisfying read.

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The Summer Book – Finland – Tove Jansson

tove

Spend  a moment on an idyllic Finnish island and learn to appreciate the beauty of nature.

Story in a nutshell

An artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter  Sophie spend an idyllic summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. Spending time together in this gorgeous setting changes them in ways they could not have foreseen – it’s two people learning to live in a new environment and appreciating what is around them. The majesty of the sea, the windswept grassy banks and the shining glass waters are as captivating as anything you will ever experience.

Place and setting

gulf-of-finlad

The 22 vignettes within the book show another beautiful side to the island that  the characters in the book find themselves on. Each vignette is a chance to look at something in detail and in a way we might not have looked at before.

The tiny island within the Gulf of finland is very similar to that where Tove spent time herself with her own family and so this is almost an ode to the calm , peacefu and serene world which she loved so much.

this is a tender, poignant and subtle novel – little happens in the way of plot but so much happens in the way of new beginning and new ways to seeing the wold. Nature, the majesty of the sea and how people are just a tiny speck in the grand scheme of things. And  how we should look more closely and appreciate the beauty all around us.

The island from the cover
The island from the book

Each vignette is as self-contained as each and every island in the Finnish archipelago. There is no thread or time line as such which eaves each one to be enjoyed and contemplated in its entirety. We could be visiting this island over one summer or several – it doesn’t matter – what does matter is the feeling that you have of having visited the island, of feeling de stressed, calm and honoured that you have been to such a place. You don’t want to read the next vignette too quickly for fear that the mist of nostalgia from the last one will fade. But you do and the mist from the next one clears and you are once again in a place where you want to look around you and capture the moment in your mind. the pace of life here is the same pace with which you should read this book – in time with the waves lapping up at the side of the rocky banks.

The relationship between Sophia and her grandmother is unique and poignant as it has a dark side –  ‘Sophia woke up and remembered that they had come back to the island and that she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead.’  More poignantly still is the fact that Tove wrote this book not long after losing her own mother. So the feeling that the stories are one of healing and the island a symbol of this new beginning is one that continues on and where there might be storms to break up the calm island setting.

Sophie and her grandmother make for a lovely set of people you would wish to spend time with. They are funny, they argue, they bicker, they have their own little worlds and they love each other and are healing together. They can be cranky and unreasonable like the rest of us.

I wanted to go to this island, I wanted to spend time with  both of them. I wanted to experience their understanding of the world around them and feel that I could learn a great deal from these two.

A lovely calm and peaceful moment in your busy reading life.

Travel the world with the Atlas of Us – Tracy Buchanan

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From San Francisco, via Exmoor, Venice, Serbia, Finland to Thailand. and Australia..

Travel the world with the ATLAS OF US

atlast

This is a booktrail which takes you far and wide – to the stunning locations such as that as evoked on the cover to England, Australia, Dubai, San Francisco and even Serbia  – an usual location for a novel maybe and certainly an eclectic mix, but one which is used to dramatic and stunning effect. Finland, as the author’s personal favourite location is also evoked beautifully on the page.

 

 

Louise Fenton decides that she has to travel halfway across the world to the site of the 2004 Tsunami  in order to find her mother Nora who was there when the disaster struck. She meets up with Jay a journalist who is looking for Claire, a friend who seems to be connected with Nora in some way. Louise is curious and wants to know more. What she discovers is far beyond whatever she can imagine.

What a journey in both the emotional and physical  sense of the world. There is the heartbreak of seeing the destruction of the Tsunami at first hand, the war torn parts of Serbia and the desolate and rather chilling backdrop of Exmoor.

But walking off the map is at the heart of this book – exploring, letting yourself go and discover things, opening up your mind and daring to dream and hope.

Let’s Walk off the map –

The-atlas-of-us-pb-font-675x1024

Krabi Thailand

The opening scenes of setting where the Tsunami happened are heartbreaking as louise goes in search of answers –

When I close my eyes, the water comes: the violent thud of waves, the tar smell of salty dampness  seeping through the cracks of my dreams. But when I look out of the bus window, it’s nothing but mangled cars again; boats that have somehow found their way onto the roofs of two -storey buildings; suitcases flung open, their innards spilling out on to the dusty pavements below

It is  perhaps the most naturally stunning of al the locations in the book but one stepped in sadness and human disaster – being recent in our memories makes it all the more distressing as we can only wonder what it would feel like to be searching for a loved one – whilst thanking our stars or a god that we ‘re not really there ourselves.

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 12.05.00

Exmoor, UK

We are introduced to Exmoor by a drawing tucked inside the Atlas of Us –

The water colour of grey pooling around the edges of moss green valleys, ready to plummet  downwards and destroy everything below

This is the setting for the main part of Claire’s story and we attend a wedding there on the rocky, windy british valley, the slopes of the cliffs into the sea, the sheer drops and the blustering wind – Claire takes her dog Archie for a walk. Th opening line to this chapter and locations sets the scene in more ways than one –

In Exmoor, there a feeling that, at any moment , something might suddenly plummet.

Such evocative writing is not just evocative of location but of emotion too and that makes for some powerful travelling experience. This is the setting for a wedding, a farmer with a secret past and a woman who gets drawn into the evocative and secret past of a family and their rustic home. There are many issues evoked alongside this setting with Claire and her growing relationship with a man called Milo – a strange and secret man indeed. His rugged demeanour and mysterious ways was as wild and mind-blowing as the Exmoor setting….

The ragged outline of the Exmoor cliffs - Wikipedia
The ragged outline of the Exmoor cliffs – Wikipedia

 

Snapshots – 

ITALY

Claire takes a trip to Italy – no spoilers here and evokes the location here via just a few words

Venice reeks of secrets. Its air is heavy with them: its narrow alley ways and shadowed canals  tailored for them

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Based in San Francisco before her travels, we get s glimpse of her home and early life –

Claire hesitated for a moment peering out of the vast windows that overlooked the Golden Gate bridge. It shone bright red against the stark black sky….

She’d even rented a room in one of San Francisco’s painted ladies, the multicoloured Edwardian houses that lined the city’s Haight-Asbury district

But the scent and air of Thailand never goes away and away from the destruction of the tsunami we see the beauty of the country – this is the scene I imagine describing the cover –

The-atlas-of-us-pb-font-675x1024

Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand

The rickety old boat bobs up and down on the turquoise seas  and I press my hair against my flyaway hair, trying not to get sick. The girl shad been so excited when I told them I was going to Ko P{hi Phi Don by boat, especially when they heard the boat’;s name meant ‘ Sea monkey’ in thai

In another location, we see and experience the war torn country of Serbia for the first time – 

A Belgrade and B Fruska Gora
A Belgrade and B Fruska Gora

Fruška Gora – Serbia

Claire tried to conceal her  shock as she took in her first views of belgrade. the buildings outside her taxi window were  scorched and windowless, like charred paper decorations hanging from the sky, ready to  crumble at one puff of breath

What the author describes as her favourite location in the interview at the back of the book, there are stunning descriptions of this beloved place –

Inari and Iso
A Inari where Filipe’s family have land and B Iso – Syote, Finland

IsoSyöte, Finland

Claire looked out at the  white landscape spread out before her – skies as pink as a child’s blush…

…like a scene from a Christmas card…

Finland was ideal; she‘d never been before so there were new vistas t explore, new foods to taste, new scents to smell, and something to get her writing teeth into: the land disputes between the indigenous Sami people and the Finnish government were ideal material for her.

 

Australia

Ayers Rock or Uluru is at the heart of Australia's red centre
Ayers Rock or Uluru is at the heart of Australia’s red centre (Wikipedia)

The Red Centre of Australia is a land on fire,burned up with fever, hot and agitated

 

And a quote that sums up both the essence of what we love at The Booktrail and what we believe reading and travelling means –

Photo courtesy of Tracy Buchanan
Photo courtesy of Tracy Buchanan

They’d been there for her when she was a kid craving consistency too, curling out in a little nook somewhere, the characters she’d read about becoming her friends when she only had her family for company as they travelled from one place to the next.

The Atlas of Us – and the world of books – seen through the eyes of the author – meet Tracy on twitter – @TracyBuchanan and http://tracybuchanan.co.uk/site/index.php/

Book advent – day 15

15

Ever been to Lapland? No well I hadn’t either but this next book of Book Advent takes you there although it may not be in the way that you would like.

snowLet The Northern Lights Erase Your Name

Set in Lapland. A place most people haven’t visited but the real setting here is inside the mind of the protagonist – a 20 year old who is on the search for her biological father. But if you think it’s  a story about a girl finding herself then it is not this – in fact it is rather one about losing yourself.

The chapters are short but due to the subject matter not easy to read but for a first visit to Lapland, it’s best to avoid too many bursts of cold in one go and so a short sharp introduction to the place and subject is welcome.The place is desolate, snow covered and very very cold. Loneliness can also be cold and this novel sets loneliness in its bleak and cold background for extra emphasis.

I for one love to read about places I have never been and was compelled to read this for the Christmassy association with the setting. However the harshness of the climate and the story within make for an interesting read.

I intend to learn more about Lapland and the Sami people now I have read this. I intend to go to Lapland again very soon.