Jordan’s debut novel tells a tale of love and strife during the Winter War of 1939-1940.
The book begins at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Nazi Germany and closes four years later at the end of a war between Finns and Soviets in the Finnish province of Karelia. Eric Björnström, a Finnish historian and diplomat, escorts his daughter Tina to the German capital to watch her childhood sweetheart, Paul, run in the Olympic Games; however, it ends up being a crushing defeat for the young man. They all meet Tom Henderson, a melancholy reporter attempting to distract himself from his own past failures. Tom and Tina are immediately taken with each other. The resulting love triangle later plays out over icy Finnish fields, in the anxious interiors of threatened Finnish homes, and on the battlefield, where Paul’s ears soon ring with “sirens and explosions and the distant cries of the injured.” Paul’s long letters to Tina tell of the horrors and small, unexpected reprieves of the battlefield; for example, he tells of friends being blasted apart by grenades and of “climbing over piles of dead Russians” but also tells of rare, quiet moments in the sauna at camp. Meanwhile, on the homefront, Tina struggles to care for her father amid the chaos and to sort out her desirous and guilty feelings toward Tom and Paul. “People tell you to put the past behind you.” Tom says at one point. “They don’t realize that some things remain forever in the present.” In this debut, the author packs in enough incidents to fill three novels, every one of them aimed at broadening readers’ understanding of the lives and sufferings of average Finns during the Soviet Union’s vicious, unprovoked invasion. English-speaking readers will be grateful for how the author puts this far-off war directly in front of them; again and again, Jordan grounds the story with solid research. However, it’s the book’s evocative language that brings the events of 75 years ago brightly to life.
A detailed, absorbing fictional study of friends in an all-too-real Finnish war.