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Overview

In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.

Tove Jansson, whose Moomintroll comic strip and books brought her international acclaim, lived for much of her life on an island like the one described in The Summer Book, and the work can be enjoyed as her closely observed journal of the sounds, sights, and feel of a summer spent in intimate contact with the natural world. 

The Summer Book is translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590172681
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 05/20/2008
Series: NYRB Classics Series
Pages: 184
Sales rank: 57,210
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.39(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

Tove Jansson (1914–2001) was born in Helsinki into Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority. Her father was a sculptor and her mother a graphic designer and illustrator. Winters were spent in the family’s art-filled studio and summers in a fisherman’s cottage on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, a setting that would later figure in Jansson’s writing for adults and children. Jansson loved books as a child, and set out from an early age to be an artist; her first illustration was published when she was fifteen years old; four years later a picture book appeared under a pseudonym. After attending art schools in both Stockholm and Paris, she returned to Helsinki, where in 1940s and ’50s she won acclaim for her paintings and murals. From 1929 until 1953 Jansson drew humorous illustrations and political cartoons for the left-leaning anti-Fascist Finnish-Swedish magazine Garm, and it was there that what was to become Jansson’s most famous creation, Moomintroll,
a hippopotamus-like character with a dreamy disposition, made his first appearance. Jansson went on to write about the adventures of Moomintroll, the Moomin family, and their curious friends in a long-running comic strip and in a series of books for children that have been translated throughout the world, inspiring films, several television series, an opera, and theme parks in Finland and Japan. Jansson also wrote novels and short stories for adults, of which Sculptor’s Daughter, The Summer Book, Sun City, The Winter Book, and Fair Play have been translated into English. In 1994 she was awarded the Prize of the Swedish Academy. Tove Jansson and her companion, the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, continued to live part-time in a cottage on the remote outer edge of the Finnish archipelago until 1991.

Kathryn Davis has received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the author of many novels, including Labrador, The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, Hell, The Walking Tour, The Thin Place, and Versailles. In 2006 she received the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. She teaches at Washington University in St. Louis and lives in Vermont.

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The Summer Book 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
kwohlrob on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You have to applaud simplicity in writing. It is the hardest thing for a writer to achieve. That sense of keeping the book `small¿ for lack of a better term, honing the story down to the barest strokes on the canvas. I always thought Hemingway did it beautifully with The Old Man and the Sea. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson is another great `small¿ book that draws you in with its perfectly simple prose and contstruction.In many ways, Tove Jansson¿s The Summer Book is closer to the latter. It is a series of vignettes, rather than flowing narrative. It almost reads like a short story collection with all of the vignettes focusing on young Sophia and her grandmother, de facto stand-ins for the writer herself. At the time of writing, Jansson was a in her sixties, a grandmother, but also had recently lost her own mother (which happens to Sophia at the start of the book). It is this great understanding of both characters that allows her to imbue them with such life. Sophia is a precocious child, prone to fits and bouts of crying, and yet, can switch to being serene and adult. The Grandmother on the other hand is loving and accommodating, constantly nurturing Sophia in her adventures, but then swings into bouts of adolescent anger and bad behavior. The wonderful scene where she breaks into a neighbor¿s house is a great example. ¿In the middle of the gravel was a large sign with black letters that said PRIVATE PROPERTY¿NO TRESPASSING.`We¿ll go ashore,¿ Grandmother said. She was very angry. Sophia looked frightened. `There¿s a big difference,¿ her grandmother explained. `No well-bred person goes ashore on someone else¿s island when there¿s no one home. But if they put up a sign, then you do it anyway, because it¿s a slap in the face.¿`Naturally,¿ Sophia said, increasing her knowledge of life considerably.¿`What we are now doing,¿ Grandmother said, `is a demonstration. We are showing our disapproval. Do you understand?¿`A demonstration,¿ her grandchild repeated, adding, loyally, `This will never make a good harbor.¿¿The interaction between the two is often hilarious and at other times really touching. They constantly swap roles, as in that scene from ¿The Neighbors,¿ where the grandmother can¿t help but behave childishly while Sophia grows instantly into an adult. Writing from her advanced age, Jansson is able to look back at the two sides of herself and imbue a sort of rough love between them.What truly grabs you about The Summer Book, strong characters aside, is its sense of place. It is a book of and about Scandinavian life on a tiny island in the Finnish archipelago. In her introduction, Kathryn Davis describes the book¿s ¿unusual point of view, which hovers above and around the island and seems not so much to move from grandmother to granddaughter as to share them.¿ It¿s imbued with the air, soil, and water of the small archipelago island where the stories are set. It has that contemplation and patience that one finds in Swedes, Norwegians, and Fins. Jansson gives you that sense of awe when viewing the landscape. You can feel yourself amongst the marshes, bilberry bushes, Rosa Rugosa, polished stones on the beaches, wet grass, and dense forests. You can feel yourself floating around in the small boats and feel the wind and rain on your face. You can see the long slow sunsets that last until after 10 pm. In many ways, the characters are small compared to the natural surroundings they walk through. It is a very Scandinavian appreciation of nature and while reading it you get a sense of walking through one of Carl Larsson¿s watercolors.While not all of the vignettes in The Summer Book are solid, ¿Berenice¿ and ¿Dead Calm¿ fall a little flat, the rest more than make make up for the duds. Some are quite funny, such as ¿The Neighbor,¿ ¿Of Angelworms and Others,¿ and ¿The Cat.¿ Others have a wonderful sense of sadness such as ¿Midsummer¿ or the closing ¿August.¿¿Every year, the bright Scandinavian s
RandyMetcalfe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Through a series of vignettes, Tove Jansson evokes summer on a tiny island off the coast of Finland. Sophia¿an earnest but tempestuous little girl¿spends her summers with her grandmother and her father. Her mother is dead, and one of the first questions she puts to her grandmother is, ¿When are you going to die?¿ Grandmother is wise and wily and immensely patient, but equally wilful as her young charge. Sophia is as quick to anger as the summer storms and just as quick to see that anger dissipate. With her grandmother she struggles with friendship, love, and ever-present fear.Sophia¿s father is a silent presence working at his desk or gardening or placing the fishing nets, but he does not speak. The focus is entirely on Sophia and her grandmother.I am fascinated by what Jansson is able to accomplish with her simple, concrete, but thoughtful prose. At one point the grandmother admonishes a visitor, ¿Stop talking in symbols¿why do you use so many euphemisms and metaphors? Are you afraid?¿ Certainly Jansson is unafraid to face head on the anguish of loss and impending loss. She follows the solution that Sophia and her grandmother arrive at on many occasions, which is to invent stories that incorporate the people and events confronting them, rendering them manageable. ¿It was a particularly good evening to begin a book,¿ notes the narrator, and I think you will agree when you take up this one. Certainly recommended.
scohva on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book about the relationships between the young and the old and humans and nature - it consists of vignettes that take place on an island in the Gulf of Finland where a young girl, her father, and grandmother spend their summers. I liked this book more and more with each story and really began to get a feel for their way of life on the island. It's one of those books that would probably be even better read in an appropriate setting, some small island somewhere or some place in Scandinavia in the summer.
kvanuska on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Are the best books the simplest one? Lately those seem the books that are striking all the right chords with me. The Summer Book is not filled with any obvious mysteries or dramas, and there are only three characters that matter -- a six-year old girl named Sophia, her grandmother, and the tiny island in the Gulf of Finland where they summer; Sophia's father is but a hard-working shadow with only a story about his near-mythic bathrobe to coax him out of the plot for a bit. I fear that if this book had been taken in hand by a publicist it would've been marketed as a collection of stories (shudder). Yes, each chapter could be slipped from the novel and read alone, but the book's gossamer thread of theme -- life unwinding itself towards death -- would have been severed. One tiny sentence brings Sophia and her path on that thread into focus: "Sophia woke up and remembered that they had come back to the island and that she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead." Rather than writing off her amazing mix of fear and bravado, rage and compassion, as the vagaries of a six-year old, we must look at her through the prism of this one simple, perfectly wrought sentence. Then we meet her grandmother in a moment typical of this entire novel, a moment that dances on the edge of humor and sadness:"Below the veranda, the vegetation in the morning shade was like a rain forest of lush, evil leaves and flowers, which she had to be careful not to break as she searched. She held one hand in front of her mouth mouth and was constantly afraid of losing her balance.'What are you doing?' asked little Sophia.'Nothing,' her grandmother answered. 'That is to say,' she added angrily, 'I'm looking for my false teeth.'The child came down from the veranda. 'Where did you lose them?' she asked.'Here,' said her grandmother. 'I was standing right there and they fell somewhere in the peonies.' They looked together.The love story between these two women and their island has all the hope, humor, despair, loss and light that anyone could ever hope to find in a novel. Find this book. Read it. And love it because it deserves all the love we can give.
VioletBramble on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a lovely little book of 22 connected short stories about a six year old girl, Sophia, and her grandmother as they spend a summer on their island in the Gulf of Finland. Sophia's father is there as well, but he is mostly in the background. In one of the earlier stories it is briefly mentioned that Sophia's mother has died. No one talks about this directly but it is always just under the surface. Whenever Sophia takes notice of death around her on the island she panics. In one story; Of Angelworms and Others, Sophia ( after accidentally cutting a worm in two) dictates a book to her grandmother. In this book she sets down her feelings about the small things - those creatures you can't avoid stepping on or hurting, that die slowly and won't let you help them. This was one of my favorite stories. Most of the stories are about everyday life on a very small island - surviving, salvaging, planting, keeping water in the well and an eye on the weather. This is a book to be read slowly and savored. I'd recommend reading it in the summer.
janeajones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jansson's writing is limpid, luminous and quietly exhilarating. The Summer Book is her acclaimed novel about the relationship between an aging grandmother and her young, motherless granddaughter as they summer on a remote Finnish island. Their interaction is simple, straightforward, and not in-the-least mawkish. But it's in the subtlety of their conversation that Jansson reveals her pre-occupations with discovery, creativity and aging."Later, Grandmother remarked on the curious fact that wild animals, cats for example, cannot understand the difference between a rat and a bird.'Then they're dumb!' said Sophia curtly. 'Rats are hideous, and birds are nice. I don't think I'll talk to Moppy for three days.' And she stopped talking to her cat....'You know what?' Sophia said. 'I wish Moppy had never been born. Or else that I'd never been born. That would have been better.''So you're still not speaking to each other?' Grandmother asked.'Not a word,' Sophia said. 'I don't know what to do. And if I do forgive him -- what fun is that when he doesn't even care?' Grandmother couldn't think of anything to say."
Copperskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A charming little book!The main action in The Summer Book happens before the start of the story and is mentioned just once and described in a single sentence on page 9.¿Sophia woke up and remembered that they had come back to the island and that she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead.¿It¿s that death that sets the tone and helps the reader understand the characters, especially Sophia. Not that it¿s a sad book, but it helps to know that this little girl is struggling with a huge loss. Sophia spends the summer on a small, isolated island in the Gulf of Finland with her Grandmother and father and the book is really a series of vignettes about their day to day lives. My favorite was 'Of Angleworms and Others' which I found especially poignant. This is a slow and languid book that should not be rushed but rather savored and enjoyed in the shade on a hot summer day.
detailmuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One evening, Sophia wrote a letter and stuck it under [her grandmother¿s] door. It said, ¿I hate you. With warm personal wishes, Sophia.¿This gentle novella is presented as vignettes about a petulant six-year-old girl and her grandmother as they reel from a trauma that goes nearly unmentioned. Set over the summer (one or many, it¿s unclear) on an isolated island off the coast of Finland, I felt immersed in the subtext of nature -- island and water and weather -- and promptly added Jansson¿s A Winter Book to my wishlist.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not read the book excactly yet but i read the overview and the book sounded great cant wait to actually read it will be awesome idk hahaha