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Read Your Way Through Helsinki

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Finns like to read: It’s their favorite thing to do of their day without work. The country is just a little smaller than Montana, but its library network is extensive, with tons of of central libraries, branch libraries and mobile libraries.

I used to be two years old when my family, forced to flee the Yugoslav Wars, found refuge in Finland. We settled in Porvoo, a small city of around 50,000 people about an hour away from the capital, Helsinki. Picturesque and popular with tourists, Porvoo is a medieval town known for its old buildings, wood houses and Fifteenth-century cathedral.

One thing it didn’t have were books in my family’s language — my first language, Albanian. I can’t say that I used to be ever encouraged to choose up a book. We didn’t do this in my family. But once I learned the way to read Finnish, I never stopped, becoming each an oddball in our household and a frequent sight on the small school library.

I used to be 10 years old when the brand new constructing of the most important library of Porvoo opened its doors to the general public. Once I visited for the primary time, I used to be so in awe that I cried. It was essentially the most beautiful thing I had ever seen: infinite shelves carrying tens of 1000’s of books, records, movies, magazines and newspapers. And one of the best part was that all the things was free. I couldn’t understand how that was possible. All these books, these worlds, this information — freed from charge? Really?

I rarely, nonetheless, borrowed a book, and if I did, I kept it hidden. To at the present time, I don’t know why that was, exactly — why it felt fallacious and scary in some way to bring books home with me. Possibly I desired to keep books to myself, a secret of some kind. Or perhaps I used to be just scared that something would occur to the books in the event that they were somewhere they didn’t appear to belong. But unlike the true world, books never distressed me — even crime, horror and thriller titles — and I read all the things. I might pick up a book from the shelf, sit down at a table, read, then return the book to its place and proceed the subsequent day from where I’d left off.

The war in Kosovo within the Nineteen Nineties made our family home slightly anxious, so I spent as much time as I could away from it, in the brand new library — falling in love with books and stories and the Finnish language; gaining confidence as a speaker and as a baby of immigrant parents; and dreaming of writing a book of my very own in the future, slowly growing from a reader to a author.

If, or when, you visit Helsinki, considered one of the primary things you need to do is dedicate a day to visiting two gorgeous libraries.

The primary is Oodi, Helsinki’s latest central library — a sweepingly beautiful constructing that mixes spruce timber and glass, inspired by Finland’s exquisite nature. It opened in late 2018, and in 2019 the International Federation of Library Associations named it one of the best Public Library of the Yr. From the third floor, reserved entirely for books, you’ll be able to enjoy breathtaking views from a big terrace. Alternatively, you’ll be able to attend events, see a movie or have coffee or lunch on the bottom floor. Oh yes, and on the second floor you’ll be able to book a piece space, play video games along with your friends and use a stitching machine, or perhaps a 3-D printer. All freed from charge.

The second spot is the National Library of Finland, the oldest within the country, designed by the famous German architect Carl Ludvig Engel. The temple-like constructing itself is spectacular, embracing different classical styles, and its massive collection includes your complete printed national heritage of Finland.

To know the country’s history higher, I might recommend a classic: Unknown Soldiers,” by Väinö Linna. Originally published in 1954, it follows the events of the Second Soviet-Finnish War during World War II, from the angle of men on the front. Finland fought alongside Germany against the Soviet Union, a fact often not noted of history books.

These days, nonetheless, there’s been a surge of novels that supply insight into the relations between Finland and Germany through the war, corresponding to The Colonel’s Wife,” by Rosa Liksom.

The Women I Think About at Night,” by Mia Kankimäki. A middle-aged woman who works at a Finnish publishing company decides to quit her job, leave all the things behind and follow the tracks of girls around the globe who’ve been meaningful to her. I like to recommend listening to this book, though it is generally set outside Finland, as there’s something very honest and direct in Kankimäki’s way of the world — and Finns are known for his or her honesty and directness!

I’d say Antti Tuomainen. His books are hilarious, and he just keeps getting funnier. They’re doing a Hollywood film of considered one of his recent novels, “The Rabbit Factor,” through which a slightly neurotic insurance mathematician inherits an adventure park. Things quickly take a turn for the more serious — and for the absurd — because the protagonist is faced with issues and events that may’t be calculated, unlike all the things else in his life.

Purge,” by Sofi Oksanen, is considered one of my favorite books of all time — a heartbreaking exploration of betrayal and life in Estonia under Soviet rule.

The Summer Book,” by Tove Jansson, is one other favorite. A grandmother and her granddaughter spend a summer together on an island, mostly talking about life. This book is a real gem: a mild giant and a quiet, powerful, enchanting read that makes you must stare at an empty wall for some time after ending.

Troll: A Love Story,” by Johanna Sinisalo, is a celebration of the imagination — a unusual and peculiar read for many who love something out of the atypical. The protagonist, a young photographer in his 30s, finds a wounded troll (from the Scandinavian mythology) outside his apartment constructing, and decides to offer it shelter.

  • “Unknown Soldiers,” Väinö Linna

  • “The Colonel’s Wife,” Rosa Liksom

  • “The Women I Think About at Night,” Mia Kankimäki

  • “The Rabbit Factor,” Antti Tuomainen

  • “Purge,” Sofi Oksanen

  • “The Summer Book,” Tove Jansson

  • “Troll: A Love Story,” Johanna Sinisalo

Pajtim Statovci, a Finnish writer born in Kosovo to Albanian parents, has published three novels: “My Cat Yugoslavia”; “Crossing,” which was a National Book Award finalist; and “Bolla,” which won Finland’s highest literary honor, the Finlandia Prize, and was a finalist for the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Fiction.

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