Frans Eemil Sillanpää: A Way of a Man (1932)
The question of 'Why This Book':
"Darkness closes in. On the table in front of me is an old magazine, a whole page is covered with illustrations relating to me, and the text on the opposite page tells about me. From all this I gather I was awarded the Nobel Prize. I even learn that I was present and received it."
(Frans Eemil Sillanpää, 1939)
Here's to the first book that has nothing to do with any reading list! I read it for the sake of reading. There IS such a thing as reading-procrastination: It's when you read with the intent to avoid necessary reading. I couldn't help it: besides Gene Weingarten's Fiddler in the Subway (the top of American literary journalism, what top, the Kékestető!), the collection of Frans Eemil Sillanpää's greatest novels was the ONLY physical book that I had with me in Brasilia when COVID broke out in March, 2020 and the libraries closed down.
Up until two years ago, I've never heard of Frans Eemil Sillanpää. His art found me, not the other way round. I'm a true believer that the best books find us at the best moments. They just do:
It was at the height of the summer in a quiet Hungarian village surrounded by vineyards and corn farms at Lake Balaton - a scenery straight out of a Sillanpää novel. My grandparents had a peasant cottage on the top of the medieval castle hill in that tiny village, Szigliget. My grandmother (who had something important in common with Louisa May Alcott) took me to this village every summer. The first time I was only 4. One of our favorite pastimes was visiting the library, which occupied two rooms in the local school, and we would climb the hill back to the cottage with our backpacks filled with books.
Twenty years after our first summer there I lost my grandmother. She couldn't get to see the local library getting downsized. Someone in charge decided to get rid of most of its collection. Don't ask questions. Neither did I. There are times when one cannot ask any questions. In Hungary it is most of the time. A couple of hundred books were doomed to be destroyed, thrown into a tiny storage place. The librarian (who used to know the late librarian who had known me as a 4-year-old) let me in the storage to take whatever I fancied. Frans Eemil Sillanpää's book was lying there, waiting to be destroyed.
It was an old, ivory white, hardcover book with one stripe in my favorite blue crossing its body on the top evoking the flag of Finland. The blue stripe started to fade away as did the name of the author, the only text on the cover. I took it in my hands, dusted it, smelled it. Even in its dilapidated state the book looked valuable, published by Hungary's most prestigious publisher in 1981. The author was Finnish -- I have a special bond with everything Finnish having lived in Helsinki for nearly a year as an English major student of Helsingin Yliopisto. I got curious. I glanced at the epilogue: Sillanpää was the only Finnish writer who won the Nobel Prize.
A thrown out book from Finland whose author I've never heard of but received the Nobel Prize - things that make me want to read a book.
It was only years later that I found out that Miehen Tie (A Way of a Man, 1932), one of the major works of Nobel Laureate Frans Eemil Sillanpää, has NOT been translated into English. Unbelievable. Raises a hell lot of questions about the meaning of success and legacy.
I'll share my review here with you, soon but I'm not afraid to spoil it: Sillanpää is a must read.