Over the years, I’ve read plenty of books, and some of them pop into my head from time to time and make me want to read them over and over. Unfortunately this is something I don’t particularly enjoy doing, since the time spent rereading something could be better spent reading something new. However, these sort of books do exist, somewhere in the midst of the books that were ‘ok’, the books that were downright bad, and the books I read and forgot.
I decided to pick up three books, which are all more or less my favorites, and display them here. I won’t say advertise, but everyone can take it as they wish. Surprisingly enough, the three works I chose are all from different countries, but more or less with a similar theme. And what would that be? Surprise, surprise: the all-conquering passion for someone (or something) – a passion stronger than even death himself.
The first book I have selected is one of the novels I’ve most recently read, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, published in 1847 under the name Ellis Bell. This book is a major work we discuss in my course’s English Literature 4 classes, the reading list to which also include works by Charles Dickens and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, not to mention the vast amount of poets whose works we analyze throughout the semester.
When our teacher originally announced the reading list at the end of last year, I was horribly frustrated that I had to read this novel. I was exited about Wilde’s text, though, but my expectations were way too high with that one, so it didn’t really live up to them. However, regarding Emily Brontë’s novel, I had – for some reason – linked the name of the novel to the idea of women trying to find a suitable rich mate and all this (which I believe are more on the Jane Austen side?), and had more or less already damned the book as rubbish in my head. So, naturally, I chose this to be the first book I read during the summer vacation, to get it over with.
I didn’t get much further than a couple of pages when I had to admit I was wrong. I absolutely love the whole old English and the whole style in which the novel is written. Even though it might be difficult in the beginning to get to the rhythm of it, it soon becomes irresistible, at least it did so with me. Needless to say, when I got into the actual story I was taken so hard I actually put the book down and let it sit unattended for a couple of weeks, just because I didn’t want it to end! The whole desperation and sorrow that is so ever-present in the story and the characters’ lives is so beautiful to me, I have never encountered another book that would have an equally charged atmosphere constantly present. (Well, one that got close, but because of another reason is Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth.)
Later on I unfortunately forgot how much the book moved me, since I had the two other novels to read, and kept on reading more and more, and the story slipped from my mind. Now, however, we have reached the point in our Literature classes where we are discussing the Brontë sisters and their works, and to get to the mood, I decided to watch a movie version of Wuthering Heights (the one made on 2009, I believe, with the guy from The Walking Dead as Edgar Linton). The movie helped me remember how much I enjoyed the story, and now I am happy writing my 6 page essay on the importance of names in the novel.
The second book I want to discuss is the Finnish war novel Unknown Soldier (original title: Tuntematon sotilas), written by Väinö Linna, and published in 1954. This book has such importance in the Finnish culture and history that not all, but many families have it in their bookshelves, and so did we. In high school one of our literature courses was focused on this work, and that meant that I had to read it, as well. I wasn’t sure at first how I would like it, since, well, it is a war novel, and that was not the type of literature I read at the time. But good student as I am, I read it. I was surprised by the way it mixes rather realistic descriptions of war (it is a story of a group of soldiers deep in the action of war, so naturally), and humor. It has many sides to it, even though it is situated in a harsh environment where it must be difficult to think of anything else.
Another interesting thing, I feel, is how it depicts the Finnish nature. Not nature as in outdoors, although that’s a major aspect as well, the battles are obviously not fought indoors, but the character and the attitude and strength (or in some cases, the lack of?) rooted deep within each and every Finnish person. The Finnish idea of ‘sisu’, which unfortunately seems impossible to properly translate, but which, if I got it right, could possibly be more or less depicted with the potential line ‘I won’t give up, god damn it!’
Wikipedia describes the idea as follows:
Sisu is a Finnish term loosely translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any other language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. The literal meaning is equivalent in English to “having guts”, and the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu. It is similar to equanimity, except the forbearance of sisu has a grimmer quality of stress management than the latter.
As luck would have it, the topic of my year’s national literature final exam was this novel. I am not sure whether this was good or bad, but at least I had read it not too long ago and was more or less familiar with its different aspects. Afterwards, I have also bought the book in English, to read in myself in the other language, to see if it is faithful to the original and as good, but I didn’t manage to read more than half, since I started in the University and had no more time.
Before summer I gave the book to a Portuguese colleague to read (since they were reading Russian books, and I’d rather people around me read Finnish instead of those). So far I haven’t heard anything from him, so I’m not at all sure how the novel translates to people outside the Finnish culture.
Oh yes, another reason why this is so important to the Finnish is that every year, on the 6th of December, they show a movie version of this on TV. It’s the day of the Finnish Independence.
The last book I want to exhibit here is one in French. If Only It Were True (original title: Et si c’était vrai…), written by Marc Levy (1999), is a beautiful story about a woman who falls into a coma and haunts her old apartment, who is already inhabited by a young man. Eventually they, as is expected, fall in love, although there is a problem: she has been in coma for such a while already that the doctors, and even her mother, are thinking about letting her go. To combat this, the two decide to steal her body from the hospital and keep her save somewhere hidden. The ending was stupid, to be honest, but probably necessary, so that Mr. Levy could write the sequel, Vous revoir (apparently translated as Finding You). I own both the first and the second novel, although I have not been able to read the sequel, yet. I started it, but had to stop due to the constant lack of time.
How I first came into contact with the novel was, if I remember right, in a flea market in Finland. I saw the book, which cost about 1€, so why not buy it. The idea was to practice my French, since in Finland there’s hardly any possibility of practicing it in other ways than reading. I instantly fell in love with the story, and as mentioned, was utterly disappointed by the last page. All the hurry and worrying and gentleness of the two are so horribly taken away when she finally wakes up. The problem? She doesn’t remember who he is. Well, maybe that will be made up for in the other book.
This one is no exception to the other two in the sense that there is also one movie made based on the novel. The difference is that there are plenty of them from Wuthering Heights, some of Unknown Soldier, and only one from this. And that it is American, and not exactly at all as good as the book. I mean to say that, sometimes, the movies more or less honor the ideas and the atmosphere of the novel, but then there’s those cases where, if you truly like a novel, you should never see the film. This, I would say, is one of them. The movie stars Marc Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon, which I think is enough said.
The most unfortunate thing regarding this novel is the fact that ever since I started learning and speaking (and reading) Portuguese, my French has degraded to a state where it almost doesn’t even exist anymore. I cannot remember words, no matter how hard I try, and thus, even if my life depended on it, could not form a better sentence than ‘My name is Viivi.’ However, I still have enough left, even if hidden somewhere deep and dark place on the back of my head, that if I truly set my mind on reading something in French, I can manage. If I don’t try to understand every single word, of course.