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3.6 3
by Riikka Pulkkinen

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Elsa is dying. Her husband, Martti, and daughter Eleonoora are struggling to accept the crushing thought that they are soon to lose her. As Elsa becomes ever more fragile, Eleonoora’s childhood memories are slipping away. Meanwhile, Eleonoora’s daughter Anna spends her time pondering the fates of passersby. For her the world is full of stories. But the


Elsa is dying. Her husband, Martti, and daughter Eleonoora are struggling to accept the crushing thought that they are soon to lose her. As Elsa becomes ever more fragile, Eleonoora’s childhood memories are slipping away. Meanwhile, Eleonoora’s daughter Anna spends her time pondering the fates of passersby. For her the world is full of stories. But the story that will change her forever is the one about Eeva, her mother’s nanny, whom her grandparents have been silent about for years. Eeva’s forgotten story, which Anna first learns of when she discovers an old dress of Eeva’s, is finally revealed layer by layer. The tale that unfolds is about a mother and daughter, about how memory can deceive us—and sometimes that is the most merciful thing that can happen.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Pulkkinen’s second novel, her first to be translated into English, the Finnish author tells the story of Elsa, a well-known child psychologist; her husband, Martti, a painter; their doctor daughter Elenoora; and Anna and Maria, their 20-something granddaughters. All have assembled around Elsa as she succumbs to cancer. Anna and her grandmother have always been kindred spirits, often playing dress up and picnicking in the park, and it’s Anna’s choice of outfit for one of these outings that opens a window into a forgotten chapter of Martti and Elsa’s past. The frock that Anna plucks from the closet belongs not to Elsa but to Eeva, Elenoora’s former nanny, with whom Martti had an ongoing affair during Elsa’s scholarly trips. While Anna obsesses over her grandparents’ past, seeing in it an alternate life that she so longs for, having to face her father’s betrayal makes Elenoora question everything. Pulkkinen has a fine eye for description and infuses her characters with longing, but the story is familiar: desire for a different life than the one we’ve chosen. An eloquent family saga that falls short of revelation. Agent: Hanna Kjelberg, Otava Group Agency. (Mar. 20)
From the Publisher
“A beautiful, sensuous novel” –Library Journal

“Pulkkinen spins variations of [the] theme of transformative identity, having characters periodically relate to one another as if they were improv artists” –New York Times Book Review

“Secrets, long hidden, are revealed through alternating voices from her family's present and past in this poignant work of fiction.” –Barnes & Nobel Book Review

Library Journal
Maybe the recent flurry of genre fiction from Scandinavia has sparked an interest in translations of its literary fiction as well. Or maybe this prize-winning Finnish novel was simply too good to pass up. The plot is an old one—the husband of a prominent family falls for his child's nanny—but the story is made fresh by its complex play of past and present and richly rendered characterizations. In a narrative that spans two generations, the author movingly captures the passions between lovers and the affections between children and caretakers, so that one's sympathies constantly shift. Martti, a well-known painter, and his wife, Elsa, a child psychologist, are too distracted by their careers and egos to pay attention to their young daughter, Eleonoora, or to their own drifting relationship. Eeva, the young nanny, seems to come alive as she grows entangled in the family and loses her way against the dynamic backdrop of 1960s Europe's changing mores and political scene. Years later, as Elsa is dying of cancer, one of Eleonoora's daughters puts together the clues of her grandparents' relationship. VERDICT A beautiful, sensuous novel; for most readers.—Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
Kirkus Reviews
In Finnish author Pulkkinen's first novel to be translated into English, a dying woman and her family become a prism illuminating love from a variety of often-uncomfortable angles. Child psychologist Elsa and artist Martti Ahlqvist have had a long, apparently successful marriage. Their only child, Eleonoora, is a tirelessly efficient doctor with an understanding husband and two grown daughters of her own. In the final stage of terminal cancer Elsa comes home from the hospital to live her last days to the fullest. When Eleonoora's older daughter Anna, an emotionally troubled graduate student, comes to visit and give Martti a few free hours, Elsa arranges to picnic and play dress-up as they did when Anna was a child. But the dress Anna puts on never belonged to her grandmother. A surprised Elsa explains it belonged to a woman named Eeva. Eeva was Eleonoora's nanny, hired so that Elsa could leave her very young daughter for weeks at a time while traveling for her career. Eeva also became Martti's lover. As the characters remember or imagine Eeva's life, she becomes a receptacle for all the forms love has taken in their lives. Imagining Eeva's passion for Martti and Eleonoora as a child, Anna is influenced by her own unshakable sense of loss as she continues to miss the child of a former lover. Eleonoora, who does not consciously remember Eeva, has co-mingled memories of mother and nanny, but her deep-rooted fear of abandonment keeps her emotionally wary. Even now, while dreading a life without Elsa, whom he has truly loved, Martti remembers Eeva with a mixture of longing and remorse. How much guilt should Martti, or Elsa, feel for what ultimately happened? Is blame even relevant? Was the nanny a surrogate wife and mother or a usurper? Eeva remains tantalizingly elusive as she becomes more real, a girl from the country swept up by the cultural changes of the 1960s. The emotional intelligence of the prose avoids melodrama to develop authentic poignancy.

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Other Press, LLC
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Read an Excerpt

Grandma doesn’t know Anna’s thoughts. Suddenly, without warning,
she says:
   “I’ve been thinking about you. What’s going on in your life? Or
what was going on, last year, the year before? We didn’t see each other
much. But your mother was worried.” 
   Anna turns her head. It’s easy to turn her head and look at the apple
blossoms, the climbing rose on the side of the house. Soon it, too, will push out buds and everything will start at the beginning again.
Grandma doesn’t give up.
“What exactly happened? What was going on?” Anna reaches for the cheese too quickly. The knife falls to the ground with a clink.
   She’s spilled wine on the dress. One drop of wine dribbles between her thumb and forefinger as if it knows the way. The stain begins to spread over the dress. If she doesn’t put salt on it quickly it will never come out. It will never leave, no matter how much you wash it. It’s already growing.
   “There was something going on for years, wasn’t there?” Grandma asks.
   “Now I’ve ruined this dress,” Anna says, upset.
   She’s still holding her glass. The glass shakes. Grandma is looking closely at her.
   “What of it?” she says. “So what? It’s just a dress.”
   “But it’s yours, and I’ve gone and ruined it. Do you have any salt?
Should I get some from upstairs?”
   Grandma is thoughtful, as if she were looking right through her.
She opens her mouth to say something, closes it again, doesn’t look
away when she finally makes up her mind to say what she’s thinking.
   “Actually, it’s not mine.”

Meet the Author

Riikka Pulkkinen studied literature and philosophy at the University of Helsinki. Her debut novel, The Border, sparked international interest when it was published in 2006. Her second novel, True, will mark her English debut. Riikka Pulkkinen received the Kaarle Prize in February 2007 and the Laila Hirvisaari Prize in May 2007.
Lola M. Rogers is a freelance translator of Finnish literature living in Seattle. Her published translations include selected poems of Eeva Liisa Manner in the anthology Female Voices of the North, published by Praesens of Vienna; the graphic novel The Sands of Sarasvati, based on Risto Isomäki’s novel of the same name, translated with Owen Witesman for Tammi of Helsinki; and Purge, by Sofi Oksanen, for Grove/Atlantic.

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