When visiting a bookstore in Florence last month, during our short trip to Tuscany, I came upon this book with enough of a funny cover and enough of a funny title (possibly capitalising on the similarity with “the girl who played with fire”] to make me buy it. I am glad I gave in to this impulse as the book is simply hilarious! The style and narrative relate rather strongly to the series of similarly [mostly] hilarious picaresque tales written by Paasilina and not only because both authors are from Scandinavia. There is the same absurd feeling that the book characters should not have this sort of things happening to them and still the morbid fascination to watch catastrophe after catastrophe being piled upon them. While the story is deeply embedded within the recent history of South Africa and [not so much] of Sweden for the past 30 years, including major political figures, there is no true attempt at making the story in the least realistic, which is another characteristic of the best stories of Paasilina. Here, a young girl escapes the poverty of the slums of Soweto, to eventually make her way to Sweden along with a spare nuclear bomb and a fistful of diamonds. Which alas are not eternal… Her intelligence helps her to overcome most difficulties, but even her needs from time to time to face absurd situations as another victim. All is well that ends well for most characters in the story, some of whom one would prefer to vanish in a gruesome accident. Which seemed to happen until another thread in the story saved the idiot. The satire of South Africa and of Sweden is most enjoyable if somewhat easy! Now I have to read the previous volume in the series, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared!
Archive for Arto Paasilinna
This week I read a second Henning Mankell novel (lent to me by my daughter), Italian shoes. It is more a tale than a novel, in that characters act and talk as in parables (in the same sense MacCarthy’s The Crossing is a parable). So it is mostly unrealistic. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Italian shoes very much, primarily because of the unappealing central character, a retired surgeon living as a recluse on an island, who is forced to reassess all his previous choices when faced with one, then two, then three strong women. (A very vague connection with Tea Bag at one point, not really of importance.) At some point the story drifts towards some survival communities that reminded me very much of Paasalina, with this weird fascination for closeted communities living in the middle of the forest. This is certainly not the strongest part of the book, but it brings a new major character and a transition to the third part, with yet a new major character and the return to the island which is more like a new beginning…
While away skiing in the Alps, I read a Paasilinna novel the owners of my rental flat had kindly left there, Onnellinen Mies (The Happy Man). As most Paasilinna’s books, this 1976 novel is not translated into English. This is one of his first novels, coming right after The Year of the Hare (which is briefly mentioned in the novel) and it is Paasilinna at his best! More homely and less picaresque than The Year of the Hare, it still bears the trademark of this writer: well-set characters, praise to engineering, entrepreneurship and individualism, tale-like atmosphere, polygamous relationships… The story is about a bridge engineer hired by a small town to replace an old bridge who is ostracised by the town for his free manners, who looses his job thanks to the town leaders and who gradually takes over the town by work, cunning and blackmail, relentlessly eliminating all his enemies. A mostly hillarious read (turned into a TV film a few years later).
Back from our ski trip, a nonsensical summary à la Prévert:
twice nine hour drive and a dead car battery,
one hour for putting chains on and five minutes to take them off,
seven saucissons for 20 euros and 30 euros for a kilo of Beaufort,three days of big white-out and one sunny afternoon,
-13 on the first day, +13 two days later,
five runs on the super-G slope every early morning,
a two-hour off-piste course and my first attempt at skating since 1988,
ten seconds stuck in the fog wrongly thinking I was still moving,
and a fraction of a second to face the opposite,
After posting my impressions of two novels by Arto Paasilinna, I got a recommendation from Sophie to read Hurmaava Joukkoitsemurha (translated by Petits Suicides entre Amis in French and not translated by A Pleasant/Charming Collective/Mass Suicide in English). I have finished it during my trip to Scotland and definitely enjoyed it!
“Portuguese stems from low latin, Sami from the bellow of reindeer.” Arto Paasilinna (my translation)
The basic setting is in a sense the very same as other successful Paasilinna’s novels, namely a collection of caricatural characters involved in unlikely humorous situations. But it is highly funny and very efficient nonetheless. This is certainly the most picaresque of Paasilinna’s novels, in that an initiating trip supposedly towards death is the topic of the novel, with new meetings in new locations at each chapter and improbable reappearance of former characters here and there. The group of suicidal Finns travels through Europe in a hilarious bus ride, meeting locals and leaving memorable impressions! The book is full of ludicrous and caricatural statements as the ones above about foreign nationals (incl. German hooligans and French perverts!), as well as about the causes for suicide in the Finn society. The epilogue is not the best part of the book in that it has too much of an “all ends well” spirit, but I definitely recommend Hurmaava Joukkoitsemurha (to those who can find a translation in their own language).