By Kjell Westö (Finland)
The historical context of the story is important.
The Great Duchy of Finland, originally part of the Russian Empire, was part of the « glacis » finno-estonian between Germany and Soviet Russia in 1918. The Germans eventually lost control of the Baltic region after the war.
The new independant state of Finland was soon divided by Civil War, with the Bolshevik-leaning « REDS » ( social democrats) supported by the equally new Soviet Russia , fighting the « WHITES » ( conservatives) supported by the German Empire.
The Germans needed Finnish ressources and hence were aiming at breaking down Russia from inside by supporting the « WHITES ».
37.000 « REDS » perished in prisonners camps from malnutrition and deseases.
After the Civil War, Finland passed from Russian to German influence, leaving the country severely divided socially.
The story in the book is set in the year 1938.
The characters :
A group of men is used to meeting on Wednesdays, at a time demanding action and courage.
« The Wednesday Club » is made up of 3 liberals and 2 conservatives, expressing their different opinions on ideological matters.
- Thune was one of them, a lawyer, liberal and humanist. He seemed to be the only one who tried to see things rationnally.
- Matilda Wiik was his secretary. She had to create several identities in order to withstand the atrocities she had to endure.
- Joachim Jary was a Jewish actor whose mental health was deteriorating rapidly and who was already feeling what was going to happen.
- There was also the Jewish winner at a 100 m race where the results were fixed. « Justice is a privilege »….
- Then , in « The Wednesday Club », there was THE CAPTAIN whom Matilda recognized immediately . It would activate an old forgotten memory and then a crual, dark light would dawn on the Captain.
We were interested in the description of Helsinki at the time, a raw and untamed city, a big port city in a country which had gone through a civil war , mostly a city of men where men like to drink, where Swedish is spoken.
Our group’s impressions :
We all found the book thought-provoking and loved it.
Practically no one knew about Finnish history, the Civil war and starvation camps.
We found the book well-written, in a contemporary way of looking at situations.
The plot kept us interested until the end . The different characters’ reactions to the turbulent times are very well described.
The novel is very contemporary in the sense that it shows what can happen when a minority is persecuted and what can happen when tolerance and free spirit are subdued.
The ending was great because it confronts and punishes the character that is the greatest predator of all : the doctor, Thune’s best friend , he who has betrayed Thune by stealing his wife, he who violated Mrs Wiik in the starvation camp, he, who under the mask of friendship symbolically subdues the truth through medical means.
The actor friend , the only one who sees clearly what is happening becomes crazy.
In the end, the victim punishes the predator.
Anne Van Calster, 24/10/2018