Friday, March 18, 2011

Vaino, a Boy of New Finland, by Julia Davis Adams

The book begins in the winter of 1916. Vaino, a young Finnish boy, lives with his mother, brother and sister (I don't recall the location of the father being either explained or significant, but I could be wrong about this) in Russian-occupied rural Finland. Russian soldiers are often on the lookout for members of the resistance, and many elements of Finnish culture, including the spoken language, are forbidden.

Vaino's mother often helps pass the time with folk tales of Vaino's namesake, a Finnish god named Väinämöinen, who helps landscape the earth after its creation, and then goes on quests in it (often with his friend Imarinen, a blacksmith of legendary talent).

Over time, Vaino becomes more invested in the resistance movement as his mother ingrains love of his country in him, his brother joins the resistance, and his sister leaves home to marry a member of the resistance on the fly, far from home. His family also wins the support of a Russian soldier by assisting him generously in his time of need. This soldier later defects in favor of the Finnish side and is of great use to the resistance. Vaino also comes of age as he finds his place in fighting for Finnish freedom.

It seems that recently there have been a number of stories of people in love with their homeland, living under the oppression of outsiders, and fighting to free the country they care for. I wish I had a better understanding of what, exactly, was going on in the world at that time to make this kind of storyline so appealing to American audiences, as World War I was well over and done with by then. All Quiet On the Western Front won the Academy Award that year; perhaps it captured imagination enough that parents wanted something similar for their children, only a bit happier.


  1. This is just so wrong...

    There isn't much true history in that book, at least based on your review. There was no resistance movement (well Jägers, but they were in Germany at the time), Finnish wasn't forbidden (hah, most Finns spoke only Finnish or Swedish), Finland wasn't really occupied (like we understand it today), it had been an autonomous part of the Russian Empire for over 100 years and most of the time peacefully.

    Finns didn't fight against Russians for "Finnish Freedom". Finnish Whites (and some Germans) did fight a bloody Civil War against Finnish Reds (and some Russians) after Reds' failed revolution (against the Finnish Senate and Parliament), but that was after getting independence.

    And the word 'vaino' means persecution (comes probably from a Russian word meaning 'war'), Väinö is a Finnish name.

    1. I didn't expect the book to be accurate, but imagine my surprise to find out that so much was off with this one. As mentioned above, I don't have much of a grasp of world history (apart from that of Austria, thanks to a year abroad) so there was no way for me to know. Also, I could find no information whatsoever about this author (aside from her Newbery titles) so I don't know what background in the culture of her books she claims to have (if any). Are you able to get your hands on a copy yourself? I'd love to know your take on the text.

    2. I've never heard from this book before, or the author. Lempi Östman sounds Finnish but other than that...

      I don't think I will get to read it, I won't be buying it online and finding such an old book in a library is pretty iffy. I'd be surprised if there were even one book in Finland. (I might be interested but I also might get too agitated if I find too many things that are wrong... :-P)

      The Finnish Civil War itself was a very violent one, not one for children's books. The political side preceding it was, OTOH, very complicated and influenced by the everything that was happening in Russia. (Wikipedia seems to have a pretty good article about it in English if you want to check something out.) If you happen to be looking for something to read that is more correct :-), there is a great Finnish classic trilogy about that time called Under the North Star by Väinö Linna, covering the years 1880-1950.

    3. Thanks for the recommendation! I feel like I owe it to Finland to check it out :) I've requested it via interlibrary loan from the library, but I may or may not be able to get it- the only libraries that appear to own the trilogy are academic ones, and the most local ones may choose to be stingy with it. Wish me luck!

      I likewise can't find a thing about Lempi Östman. I wish I still had the book at hand but I had to interlibrary loan it as well, and if I recall correctly, it didn't have its dust jacket so I don't have access to whatever information might have appeared there. *sigh* I can't find reference to author or illustrator in databases, either. Dead end! My librarian skillz are failing me!

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