A History of Finland

I remember buying A History of Finland by Eino Jutikkala and Kauko Pirinen, translated by Paul Sjöblom (who also wrote Finland from the Inside: Eyewitness Reports of a Finnish-American Journalist, 1938-1997 which I read last year) at Kirjapörssi, an excellent remainder bookstore, when I lived in Helsinki during the summer of 2000. It has taken me seventeen years to get around to reading it. Now long books don’t deter me, so I wasn’t turned off by this 485-page history. My typical habit of buying a book and reading it years later meant that this purple cover sat on my bookshelf, looking like intellectual wallpaper. I should have just left it there, for this book was one of my all-time most boring reads ever. It took me thirty days to get through this clunker chunker. I cannot recall a book that I disliked that took me longer to plow through. Although I am a Fennophile and have read many books about Finnish history already, I will not be keeping this book, no matter how much the sight of it brings back the fondest memories of the best summer of my life.

A History of Finland was infected with spelling errors, and since I was reading the fifth revised edition, someone should have caught them by now. I should have known the drudgery that lay ahead, when the very first sentence of chapter one began “About twelwe thousand years ago…”. This misspelling occurred twice in the text. Granted, the W does not occur in the Finnish alphabet and words with a W in them are indexed as if they had a V, so Sjöblom may have reflexively confused the two letters, but I won’t excuse him for it nor for any of the other eye-rollers. I encountered so many damn typos within the first fifty pages that I thought that if I had 435 more to go I was just going to make an overall statement panning the entire book. One error, which had me laughing out loud, was:

“Persuading Nicholas II to sign this document which fundamentally circumscribed Finland’s autonomy–as the Tinns saw it–, probably did not require…” (p. 355).

For one, no one caught Tinns for Finns? And the comma after the second dash is totally unnecessary, a punctuation gaffe I encountered more than once. The text also was disgraced by numerous misspellings of Finlad and this excerpt within a lengthy sentence:

“…it had bee reduced to the condition of a machine that is cut off from its sourcce of power…” (p. 379).

So this is what I had to put up with. The translation was another reason to loathe this book. I have not seen the Finnish original, yet the English version made the history of the Finnish nation progress at a slower than glacial pace. Such was the velocity of my reading that I could only get through ten pages in an hour. I never looked forward to sitting down with this book to find out what would happen next, although the history from the nineteenth century onwards was more interesting–slightly–than any of the earlier time periods, but that’s not saying much. I managed to speed through the sections at the very end on the Winter War and the Continuation War, but I have read extensively on both of these conflicts so the literary awkwardnesses did not seem so boring when I could visualize the military strategizing and anticipate the outcomes. And the Soviet Union’s meddling within post-WWII Finnish internal politics was interesting, but after 470 pages to finally get to that savory historical nugget was not worth it.

After enduring 485 of the most boring pages I have encountered in years I just want to rid myself of the agonizing experience and forgo revisiting the contents to write a review. Once I turned over page 485 I wanted to get outta there. What more can I say about the book except the authors started at the Finnish genesis, covered the first settlements and the origin of the Finnish people, then moved on through millennia and the centuries of Swedish and Russian rule up until independence in 1917 and on to the early 1990’s. I thought I would enjoy learning about the Finnish migration and commingling with the Sami, but I was loathing this snail’s pace account of history from page one. This book’s only redeeming factor was that it provided me two correct questions in the European History category in a recent episode of “Jeopardy!”. Honest-to-God truth.

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