An intimate investigation of authoritarianism from the Finnish author of Compartment No. 6 (2016).
In the middle of a cold, dark Finnish night, an old woman commences to set down the story of her life. She begins with a portrait of herself as a young girl most at home in nature. These early vignettes have an almost magical quality, and readers who aren’t well-versed in the history of Finland between the world wars might not fully grasp what’s happening as a wild child turns into a fascist young woman. This transition is quite clear by the time the narrator says of herself and her sister, “We figured Nazism was where we belonged. There was only one leader for us, and it was Hitler.” Nazism is, of course, a live topic in American civic life right now, but even as we examine the survival of this philosophy in contemporary culture, most of us remain largely unaware of the extent to which the Nazis found enthusiastic followers outside of Germany before and during World War II. The narrator finds herself near the center of party life when she marries the Colonel, an eager collaborator. The Colonel is many years her senior, and their relationship is a mix of ferocious sexuality, hideous abuse, and luxury during a period of terrible privation. This is not a confession, and there is something horribly fascinating in reading the words of someone who is eager to speak about her Nazi past without apology. But the narrator’s lack of interest in introspection ultimately makes her recitations of events almost boring, especially for readers who don’t have the historical knowledge to follow the shifts back and forth in time. This slim novel works best when it reads like a dark fairy tale or a fable about the day-to-day experience of evil.
Unusual and uneven.