Writer: Tove Jansson (translated by Thomas Teal)
Publishing House: NYRB Classics
Date of f Publication: May 20th 2008 (first published 1972)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’One time in April, there was a full moon, and the sea was covered with ice. Sophia woke up and remembered that they had gone back to the island and that she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead.’’
Sophia and her grandmother spend the summer on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. the child is difficult, at times impossible. She is also charismatic, inquisitive and absolutely brilliant. Grandma is wise, opinionated, feisty and protective. Through their tempestuous relationship and the wild beauty of the landscape they call ‘home’, we witness the bond and the gaps between the generations, we watch the marriage between humans and Nature, and, quietly, we may begin to turn our eyes inside us, on our relationships and priorities.
‘’Well’’, Grandmother said, ‘’it did die now, all the same.’’
‘’How did it die?’’, Sophia yelled. She was very angry.
‘’Of unrequited love.’’
In 22 short chapters, Tove Jansson paints a world of ‘magic’ forests, silent steps and cries, driftwood and seaweed, summer winds and evening light. Of the full moon and the unpredictable sea, of a grandmother that always stands her ground, a child that wonders how God can keep track of all the people who pray at the same time, who prays to be brave, who tries not to get bored, who struggles to find her world bereaved of her mother while her father is a silent, almost absent, figure. The island is there, watching and listening while Sophia struggles to make sense of the world that opens before her and her grandmother tries to understand the ‘noise’ that humans create unnecessarily.
“It’s funny about love’, Sophia said. ‘The more you love someone, the less he likes you back.’
‘That’s very true,’ Grandmother observed. ‘And so what do you do?’
‘You go on loving,’ said Sophia threateningly. ‘You love harder and harder.”
Beautifully translated by Thomas Teal. The Introduction by Kathryn Davis did not do justice to Jansson’s work, in my opinion.
‘’Every year, the bright Scandinavian summer nights fade away without anyone’s noticing. One evening in August you have an errand outdoors, and all of a sudden it’s pitch-black. A great warm, dark silence surrounds the house. It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill, nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin. There are no stars yet, just darkness.’’