Jere tahtoo koiran by Arvi Arjatsalo is the first Finnish book I ever got. I cannot remember though where I acquired it. It was either from my own library’s book sale or from a Sudbury library book sale. My own library system never had a juvenile Finnish collection, although there is an ink stamp inside the book identical to the one that our library system uses when withdrawing or discarding books. The stamp does not identify it as specifically from our library system, however, and as far as I know we could have used a generic book sale ink stamp provided to all libraries from a general library supplies catalogue. The book was withdrawn from the Greater Sudbury Public Library system and still has two blue sharp-edged cards in its rear back pocket. Sadly, the book was never borrowed, not even once. I may have acquired it from a Sudbury library since my former boyfriend, Pauli Kivistö, was from there and we visited his hometown–as well its libraries–often.
The title translates to Jere Wants a Dog and I obtained it before I acquired a reading knowledge of Finnish. In the late nineties I was definitely already a fennophile, and thought this book was the coolest thing. Once I learned the language, I embarked on other reading projects, and bypassed this 96-page chapter book. As I continue to explore my bookshelves and decide if I want to keep everything, I revisited this book and it struck me that I had never even read it. Books are meant to be read, not to stand on one’s bookshelf as ornamental wallpaper.
Mark and I are going to be visiting Finland this August. It will be his second time there (his first was in 2010) and my tenth time. Twenty years ago in early August of 1999 I visited Finland for the first time. I decided to read Jere tahtoo koiran to practise my Finnish in preparation for this trip. I am amazed that nineteen years after my intensive Finnish language classes that I can still read this language. Finnish requires patient reading since its agglutinative structure often means–for me, at least–reading the whole sentence first then backtracking to figure out what it is I just read. I do use a dictionary when I read.
Jere is a boy of nine who desperately wants a pet dog. His parents won’t let him have one, saying he’s too young to know how to care for it. The story tells of the antics he and his friends get into in their quest to get Jere a dog. They skip school to respond to an ad in the paper where a man is looking to give away his dog–which ends up being an elephantine creature that bowls Jere over. Their mischief is nothing compared to what an older group of boys gets up to. Jere and his friends live in fear of them. A mysterious man in a horse and carriage–a time traveller–arrives at the right time to save them from danger. A kid’s book about a boy who wants a dog would be traumatic if by the end of the story Jere didn’t get one. It is thus no spoiler to report that the last chapter is a tear-jerker where Jere’s parents agree between themselves to let their son finally have a dog. They take him on a surprise visit to a house where a new litter of puppies had been born and Jere gets to select his favourite.