New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani - review

by Todd Atticus / 03 January, 2013
In something of a bold gesture, Diego Marani begins <em>New Finnish Grammar</em> with the kind of disclosure some authors would be tempted to withhold for a final act, says Todd Atticus.
New Finnish Grammar by Diego MaraniIn something of a bold gesture, Diego Marani begins New Finnish Grammar with the kind of disclosure some authors would be tempted to withhold for a final act: the narrator is not the possessor of the story he relays but merely a bit-player, moved by remorse to piece together the story of another man’s fate.

In 1943, a wounded soldier is taken aboard a German warship stationed off the Italian port of Trieste. The man – known only by the tag on his jacket, Sampo Karjalainen – has no memory of his identity or language. Presuming him to be a fellow countryman, the ship’s neurologist teaches his patient Finnish in an attempt to trigger his memory. It is this doctor who holds the novel’s reins, peppering the story with observations about Sampo’s mental health and his increasing dependency on marginal grammatical concerns as the platform for his well-being.

A friendly pastor aids Sampo’s spiritual recovery with retellings of Finnish mythology. These passages reinforce the novel’s theme that identity is largely shaped by heritage, but they also threaten to derail its pacing with their blunt intrusions. Despite this, these tales provide texture to an otherwise simple story; one that only gently piques with the introduction of a romantic interest for Sampo.

The protagonist’s stilted infatuation with a hospital nurse is but one of two that frame the novel; the other being a tryst of the author’s own. Not since JRR Tolkien has a writer so openly displayed such a love affair with linguistics (a comparison only bolstered by the fact that, like Tolkien before him, Marani has invented his own language).

Given its inert title and shallow narrative arc, it is difficult to imagine New Finnish
Grammar
having an emotional heart; but it does manage to stir, despite its otherwise academic premise.

NEW FINNISH GRAMMAR, by Diego Marani (Text, $26).

Todd Atticus is a Wellington bookseller.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

The rate of technological change is now exceeding our ability to adapt
71303 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z Technology

The rate of technological change is now exceeding …

by Peter Griffin

A decade on from the revolution of 2007, the pace and rate of change are exceeding our capacity to adapt to new technologies.

Read more
Government tests electric limo for Crown fleet
71520 2017-04-24 00:00:00Z Technology

Government tests electric limo for Crown fleet

by Benedict Collins

An electric-hybrid limousine is being put through its paces to see whether it's up to the job of transporting politicians and VIPs around the country.

Read more
What growing antibiotic resistance means for livestock and the environment
71360 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

What growing antibiotic resistance means for lives…

by Sally Blundell

Animals kept in close proximity, like battery chickens, are at risk of infectious disease outbreaks that require antibiotic use.

Read more
The little-known story of Ernest Rutherford's secret anti-submarine work in WWI
71418 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z History

The little-known story of Ernest Rutherford's secr…

by Frank Duffield

Famous for his work splitting the atom, Ernest Rutherford also distinguished himself in secret anti-submarine research that helped the Allies win WWI.

Read more
Book review: Larchfield by Polly Clark
71160 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Books

Book review: Larchfield by Polly Clark

by Nicholas Reid

Poet WH Auden stars in time-hurdling novel – as a life coach to a lonely mum.

Read more
A Way with Words: Fiona Farrell
71329 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Books

A Way with Words: Fiona Farrell

by Fiona Farrell

Do I have a routine? Yes indeed. Otherwise I’d never get anything done. I am very distractible. Suggest coffee and I’ll be there.

Read more
The blue zone: Kiwi workers' wage gap trap
71457 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Economy

The blue zone: Kiwi workers' wage gap trap

by Virginia Larson

For blue-collar workers, the gap between the haves and the have-littles is widening.

Read more
Suitably predictable: Why we're attracted to a uniform
71366 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Psychology

Suitably predictable: Why we're attracted to a uni…

by Marc Wilson

Why firefighters get the girl more often than the average bloke does.

Read more