Book: A Winter Book by Tove Jansson
Finnish Winter Retreat
Guest Author Michele Simeone
If you’re tired of hearing about summer, how does a good dose of Finnish winter sound?
It was during my second year in Finland that my friend surprised me with a copy of [amazonify]0954899520::text:::: A Winter Book [/amazonify]. With one bitterly cold winter under my belt, I was now less worried about basic survival and more concerned with keeping cabin fever at bay during the long, dark months ahead. No matter how many winter sports a person picks up, I’d discovered, the extremity of the Finnish winter means spending a lot of time indoors. Thank goodness for books, piles and piles of books.
A Winter Book (2006) is the first collection of Tove Jansson’s short fiction for adults to appear in English translation in almost forty years. Jansson, probably Finland’s best-known queer figure, is so overwhelmingly famous for authoring the Moomintroll series, that her contributions as a visual artist and writer of adult fiction have frequently gone unmentioned. But the popular reception of her novel The Summer Book (originally published in 1972 and reprinted in English in 2003) sparked a renewed interest in Jansson’s adult prose.
In addition to previously published stories and a selection of black and white photography, this latest compilation includes the piece “Correspondence,” appearing for the first time in English translation. This spare, poignant story is based on the actual letters exchanged by an elderly Jansson and a young Japanese fan. Tokyo resident Tamiko first writes to Jansson hoping to learn how to write stories, and a friendship soon buds. Tamiko’s letters reveal—we are not privy to Jansson’s side of the exchange—a great intimacy and understanding that defies cultural difference, age, and a vast geographic divide. In one letter, Tamiko writes:
How many lonely islands are there in Finland?
Can anyone live there who wants to?
I want to live on an island.
I love lonely islands and I love flowers and snow.
But I can’t write how they are.
Together, the stories collected in A Winter Book form a moving, but wholly unsentimental meditation on aging and youth. Unlike The Summer Book, not all the stories are confined to one season; here, winter takes on the more symbolic meaning of age. The first two parts of the collection are made up of stories told from the perspective of a child, while the third part takes an enormous leap into old age. Most of the pieces are semi-autobiographical and portray real people and events from Jansson’s life.
Tove Jansson’s success in making a family of plump, white trolls the symbol of a nation must be proof of her great mastery as a storyteller. Her adult fiction, though less known, is no exception. Whether you’re lying on the beach, or escaping the cold like I was, A Winter Book will transport you to Jansson’s universe—funny, sad, and always wise.
Michele says: I’m a freelance writer and award-winning literary translator. Since moving with my husband to our friend’s lakeside eco-cottage, I’ve written A House Called Nut about our pursuit of a simpler, greener life in the Finnish countryside.
Michele, thanks once again for sharing a look at Finland with A Traveler’s Library. Your blog, A House Called Nut is another wonderful virtual trip to Finland. What an interesting life you lead.
I am curious to know if anybody here has read those Moomin books? I read that they are the best selling book in America by a Finnish author, but I had never heard of them. Multi-talented author, huh? And in case you missed it, Michele discussed Tove’s Summer Book here earlier.