A detailed, wide-lens historical novel of Finnish Americans then and now.

KOTIMAA

HOMELAND

Munger (Boomtown, 2016, etc.) concludes his Finnish American trilogy with a novel that hops between a modern assassination plot and an early-20th-century immigration experience. 

Anders Alhömaki grows up planning to inherit his stepfather’s farm in Finland’s Kainuu region. After a failed relationship with a Kale woman, however, Anders leaves his homeland behind and finds work in Norway’s copper mines. Here he gains a reputation as a boxer, though one whose head is already across the sea: “Aren’t you the one who’s always dreaming of America?” His travels eventually bring him to the mines of Michigan and Minnesota, where many Finns have settled, looking for a better life. Anders is given the opportunity to be his own man—and perhaps to find love in the roiling, immigrant-filled Upper Midwest. Anders’ story is offset by another occurring in 2017. Dr. Janine Tanninen, the daughter of an African-American father and a Finnish American mother from Anders’ Upper Midwest milieu, has married a Finnish man and moved to Finland to assist the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, a disgruntled man plots the assassination of Assistant Director of Immigration for Refugees and Migration Tarja Saariaho. Saariaho, he believes, in her role of resettling Muslim immigrants in Finland, is working to erase the country’s Christian identity. “And now I hear she’s considering a run for fucking president!” he fumes. “That woman has as much right to lead Finland as a drunk sleeping in...downtown Stockholm has to be crowned king of Sweden!” With the roles reversed—Finland an importer rather than an exporter of those looking for a better life—the story of the Alhömakis comes to a startling conclusion. Munger’s prose capably summons the stark landscapes of the novel, which embody both melancholy and understated beauty: “Across the bleak land, a lantern twinkled in a window. He moved quickly; the rhythm of skiing as innate as walking to a young boy of the north.” It’s a sprawling novel, as one would expect from the third volume in a multigenerational immigrant saga, but Munger demonstrates an impressive amount of control as he toggles between the historical (sections 1 and 3) and the contemporary (sections 2 and 4). There is quite a bit of coincidence at work, but perhaps that is par for this genre, which usually seeks to reveal continuities between people and across time. The Anders sections, in particular, manage to evoke the deliberative naturalism of Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser, and Munger effectively maintains this strategy even into the sections set in 2017. His attempts to grapple with current immigration issues, including Syrian refugees in Europe and the election of Donald Trump, make for a complex yet appropriate end to a series that is essentially a long meditation on leaving home and building another life somewhere else. Fans of thoughtful, probing historical fiction should enjoy this final volume, which stands well enough on its own.

A detailed, wide-lens historical novel of Finnish Americans then and now.

Pub Date: June 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73244-340-2

Page Count: 363

Publisher: Cloquet River Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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