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The protaganist is then sent "back" to Finland with a prescription to refamiliarise himself with his language and perhaps fall in love, to try to jog past memories back into his consciousness. The book is set during the middle of the Winter War and Continuation War, so there is the backdrop of things seeming temporary and transitory.

There is Pastor Koskela, who sets about giving 'Sampo' Finnish lessons, by way of an open copy of the Kalevala and a half bottle of Koskenkorva a type of Finnish vodka every day in the church sacristy. Men who look as lost and dazed as he himself was, when picked up. The author is a linguist and has incorporated his philosophies around language and its meaning into the novel narrative.

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The plot is that of the quest. The quest being, to find this man's true identity and reunite him with his family and roots. The mixture of the Christian church, juxtaposed against a pastor who has strong pagan beliefs rooted in the Finnish pre-Christianity epic, the Kalevala, gives the reader plenty of food for thought about human beliefs. The contrast between the Russian Eastern Orthodox church and the Finnish Lutheran one is beautifully summed up by Pstr Koskela, who takes 'Sampo' around each. As it begins to dawn on the reader the pastor is stark raving mad, helped along by drugs, which he is seen taking in secret, he then vanishes off to the Karelian front.

This causes 'Sampo' to have a breakdown, as he wanders the streets of Helsinki talking to buildings and inanimate objects, in his frantic desire to learn Finnish and find himself. She has memories, he does not, and this drives him insane. The book is written from the perspective of the neurological doctor coming across the notebook and scraps of letters, compelled to find out what became of the man who wrote them The Sampo narrative is written in the first person.

The fact this is a man without a memory, until such time he was rescued, is a brilliant writing technique, for we get to see the world through someone's fresh eyes, as he tries to make sense of the world, his place within it and and his search for self and identity. There is high comedy when Sampo finds a family who did indeed lose a son with his exact name, and we get a glimpse of the horror that might be were he to turn up to his real family, as a ghost, someone they thought was dead.

The twist at the end is brilliantly executed. I shall not be the one to spoil it. Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. The book begins in Finland was fighting Russia as an ally of Germany, but the Germans were on the retreat and the traditional Russian enemy is poised for, and eventually launches, a new invasion of Finland. The central character is called Sampo Karjalainen.

He is found clubbed unconscious by some assailant in Trieste. That Finish name - drawn from Finnish mythology - is sewn into his seaman's jacket, but he has lost all memory of who he is and all understanding and use of language. In the Trieste military hospital he is found by the Finnish born Dr Petri Friari, who is serving in the German army: he had fled his country in , after his father had been killed as a suspected communist during the Finnish civil war which was won by the Whites.

Though an exile from his country, Friari still feels a profound love and identity with it. He feels an obligation to help Sampo to recover the Finnish language and begins to teach him; he has not got very far when he arranges for Sampo to be sent, early in , to a military hospital in Helsinki, where, surrounded by other Finns, he hopes Sampo's recovery of his language will be speeded up. In that hospital a caring army chaplain, Pastor Olof Koskela, takes on the job of teaching Sampo.

The hospital is Sampo's base, but he can spend as much of his time outside it as he likes one of the many things in the book which seems unlikely.


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We understand from the Preface that Sampo has died when Dr Petri himself goes back to Helsinki in and finds a manuscript written by Sampo. Its transcription, filled out with Petri's occasional emendations and comments, makes up most of the book. One has to suspend one's disbelief that someone who had painfully had to learn Finnish from scratch and never really feels at home in it should have written such an eloquent and poetic book, even given Petri's emendations; that he could have understood, let alone reproduced, Koskela's sophisticated ideas.

These are, for example, about the differences between the Russians and the Finns or between Russian Orthodox and Finnish Lutheran theology. Then there are his allusions to Finnish mythology, as if Sampo were familiar with them. Koskela is increasingly obsessed - to the point of mania - with the Finnish epic, the Kalevala; its grim stories shape the Pastor's view of life, and he sees parallels between them and the situation in which Finland or the Pastor or Sampo find themselves; but I have to say that for the most part they eluded me.

Koskela also has a deep love for the Finnish language, and he tells Sampo about its lyricism and subtlety and a character unlike that of any other language and in which, for example, nouns have 15 cases according to context and in which the word for the Bible Raamattu also means Grammar. At one point, when Sampo has already accumulated a large vocabulary, he still compares the language to "an enemy who was attacking me from behind" and which each day surprised him on a different front, while he was trying to keep his mind clear of its "carpet-bombing.

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It looks as if the book had been written by a Finnish patriot, but the author, steeped as he is in the Finnish language, culture, landscape, climate and history, is actually an Italian. There are many beautifully written scenes, and they have been superbly translated from the author's Italian into English by Judith Landry.

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Though, as I said, I had from time to time had to suspend my disbelief and though I could not always follow the rumination of Koskela, I found this an utterly compelling story. Interesting idea, but the unending gloominess is a bit much. A wonderfully paced book with parts that have to be re-read, purely because the show so much about personal identity, language and human growth. However, I don't think I'll be learning Finnish at any time in the near future.


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Thoroughly recommended - small but perfectly formed. Fascinating read. A Finnish exile in Germany decides an amnesiac is a fellow Finn on the basis that he has a Finnish name on his jacket and sends him off to Helsinki to learn the language and hopefully hook up with his past. Learn the language he does - from a Finnish pastor who is deeply into Finnish myth - and the language is clearly something else, as is both Finnish myth and history.

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He also has a conversation with a nurse who subsequently writes him some letters. The amnesiac never really connects, though This all happens in the closing days of the was as Germans retreat from Finland and Russians invade. This is quite an interesting set of reflections on what it like to be Finnish - not a subject covered in many novels.

It's stylish and credible - but I did not find it the penetrating study of loss and alienation recommended by other reviewers and on the back jacket in a review by the Guardian. See all 47 reviews. Would you like to see more reviews about this item? Go to Amazon. Unlimited One-Day Delivery and more. There's a problem loading this menu at the moment.

Learn more about Amazon Prime. Back to top. Get to Know Us. Length: pages. Word Wise: Enabled. Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled. Page Flip: Enabled. Amazon Music Stream millions of songs. Audible Download Audiobooks. DPReview Digital Photography. Shopbop Designer Fashion Brands. Amazon Business Service for business customers. Amazon Second Chance Pass it on, trade it in, give it a second life. He is brought on board a German hospital ship anchored in the harbour, where a doctor named Petri Friari attends to him. The man has no memory and no language, but from his jacket and the initials embroidered on his handkerchief, the doctor, a native of Finland, deduces that he is a Finn called Sampo Karjalainen.

The doctor, whose troubled relations with his country are made worse by mingled guilt and anger at the way his father was treated by his countrymen, sees the wounded soldier as a kind of alter ego and determines to restore his consciousness of his native tongue, and so make him aware again of his past. Friari has Sampo repatriated to Finland, an Axis ally, with a letter of introduction to a doctor there.

Yet, despite the best efforts of the doctor, a pastor Sampo encounters who takes him under his wing and a Red Cross nurse who falls in love with him, as well as his own strenuous attempts to master the structures of Finnish and force himself to rediscover its roots in his memory, the man seems incapable of doing so.

As he tramps the streets of Helsinki, trying to trace his relations, he tries to make himself believe that his language and the details of his personal past are slowly returning to him. Deep down, however, it seems he does not believe it. One day he does track down a family that has lost its son, the sailor Sampo Karjalainen, in the fighting, but there is no spark of recognition on his part, or theirs.

Clearly he is another Sampo, son of another set of parents. Marani creates a believable Finland in the last years of the Second World War, with Russia, the enemy from the east, massing on its borders and the German ally rushing to defend it in the face of impending defeat. He also draws us deep into Finnish culture, with its antecedents in shamanism and the myths of the Kalevala - the Finnish national epic - and its thin veneer of Lutheranism. Yet he does this only in order to pursue his primary task, of raising questions about how we relate to ourselves, our pasts and our native language.

Is there a future for us if we have no past? How can a created past ever be a substitute for the real thing? It is from a woman that we come into the world, from a mother that we learn to speak. Sampo's resistance to the advances of the nurse, drawn to him partly because of his helplessness, stems from a darkness inside him he cannot understand, but which we sense has to do with his origins: perhaps he did not spring from a Finnish mother and Finnish is not his native tongue.