“a rose by any other name:” New Finnish Grammar, by Diego Marani translated from Italian to English by Judith Landry

This book tickled my interest in all things Finnish, in language and its acquisition, and in our conception of identity.

The Finnish part is of less interest to those who have no Finnish heritage, but New Finnish Grammar also tells a little known and compelling part of living between two strong nations, in this case Germany and Russia from 1900 to the end of World War II. And its lessons both inside Finland and from without are apt for Americans in this early 21st Century. Perhaps we can capture a glimpse of the angst and hatred generated in people caught up in movement of great powers, America (its allies) and the Muslim world. The protagonists Dr. Petri Firari and his patient Sampo Karjalainen are men without country and men held fast by a foreign tongue (Firari is a Finnish expat who speaks German; Karjalainen an Italian learning Finnish after losing his memory).

The language part is fascinating. Diego Marani more than being a simple polyglot is a student of language, a professional linguist, who writes in Europanto (his invented language).   His insight into the importance of language to who we are and the processes we must employ to acquire our first and successive languages plays a central role in the plot. The Finnish stamp is upon Dr. Firari and though he can never live there he uses every means possible to stay current with the news and the language. Karjalainen on the other hand is no one; without a language he owns no identity and lives on the side lines listening, noting, studying.

Karjalainen’s identity—his name is early on told, Massimiliano Brodar—reforms behind the language and culture of Finland during the last years of World War II. He recovers his health after a nasty head injury. He slowly acquires Finnish as a “relearned” language. He even more slowly acquires a real Finnish identity: Sampo Karjalainen becomes a Finnish patriot facing the Russian army at Viipuri on the Karelian isthmus. Dr. Firari, telling the story from his own experience and from a manuscript Karjalainen left in the Helsinki hospital, is the unlucky man who must live a life in a dual identity (Finnish and German). Sampo Karjalainen gains a single, heroic identity, although it is the wrong one.

In a single word, the book is FASCINATING / Tämä kirja on KIEHTOVA.

 

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