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Antti Tuuri: Pohjanmaa (A Day in Ostrobothnia)

The day in question is July 18, 1978 (it’s not mentioned in the book but Tuuri has said this in an interview) and, apparently, some of the thing mentioned in the book actually happened on that day. There are two key things to be noted. Firstly, the novel is almost entirely written in reported speech. Tuuri said that his reason for that is that, if he were to write in direct speech, he would have had to use the Ostrobothnian dialect but that would have given it a comical touch for the average Finnish reader, which he did not want to do. Using standard Finnish would have been inappropriate, so he used reported speech. The second key point that will strike a non-Finnish reader and, quite probably, a Finnish reader as well, are the numerous references to and influences of Finland’s two wars. The two wars in question are the Winter War and the Continuation War, which ended more than thirty years before the events of this novel. Yet, not only do the older generation clearly remember these two wars (many of the men having participated in them) but the children, born after the end of these wars, still talk about them and are clearly influenced by them.

The story is about the Hakala family and, in particular, the four boys. The book is narrated by the youngest, Erkki, aged twenty-eight, the only one with a steady job (he works in a factory, making paper bags and has his own flat). The other three – Veikko, Paavo and Markku – all work on the family farm, which is in debt and not working well. Veikko has set up a rug factory but this has had problems, though it is not clear whether this is because of market forces, his incompetence or because his manager, Ketola, has cheated him. Veikko, who is impetuous and violent, goes for the latter option and, at the beginning of the book, goes round to Ketola’s house and threatens him. The altercation is broken up by the police. However, the rest of the day will involve the police and Ketola.

Erkki, who is the only one who seems not to be particularly impetuous and violent, at least by the standards of this family, unearths his father’s hidden sub-machine gun. When he, Veikko, Paavo and a friend go to the swimming hole, he takes the gun with him and they practice with it. Of course, everyone round there knows the noise of a sub-machine gun. Their old teacher, who fought in the war with their father, soon turns up and they have to admit to him that they have it. Meanwhile, Markku and a couple of friends kidnap Ketola but he manages to stab Markku in the eye and all of them are arrested, while Markku is taken to hospital, where he loses his eye. Despite Erkki’s efforts, things go from bad to worse, with the police playing a key role.

The threat of violence hangs over this novel, not just the Veikko-Ketola business but the two wars, the gun culture of the Ostrobothnians and the violent nature of the Hakala boys. Women play a relatively minor role – as wives and mothers but also as victims (one of the boys hits his wife) and sex objects (Erkki has a quick romp with his ex-girlfriend, who is now married to an engineer). Is this the nature of Ostrobothnians or because of the wars? Tuuri passes no judgements.

Publishing history

First published in 1982 by Otava
First published in English in 2001 by Aspasia Books, Beaverton, Ontario
Translated by Anselm Hollo