Comments: 23
I wonder to what extent the book was inspired by Willy Brandt's personal history. (Brandt and Heinrich Mann's paths crossed, inter alia in 1940 in Paris IIRC -- I'm pretty sure Klaus Mann would have heard about it from his uncle.) If so, I somehow don't think this MC's conduct would have been appreciated by Brandt, though ...
BrokenTune 3 years ago
I think the book predates their meetings, it was first published in 1934. But if there had been a link, I agree that Brandt would not have been thrilled by the MC.
BrokenTune 3 years ago
It is such an odd book, tho.
In part, perhaps for the same reason "Blue Train" isn't one of Christie's best -- the need to publish *something* to make money?

Then again, he was going fairly doctrinally socialist at that time, so "principles over people" *would* be a logical position for him to take (and, similarly, for his protagonist).

The timing sort of explains another thing I'd been wondering about, btw (why Finland)? Finland was the first Nordic country to really get clobbered, almost fatally, in WWII; even before the war reached Norway. But I guess in 1934 it would still have made sense to go there ...
BrokenTune 3 years ago
I believe he and Erika had visited Finland shortly before (at least according to the introduction of the book), and this prompted him to choose Finland as the setting. Also, it is remote enough from Paris to act as a counterpoint, an outpost, to the "scene of the action" of where our MC thinks she should be.

As for his reasons and the pressures to write the book, I completely agree - money was always an issue for him - but when reading it felt like there was more to it. Maybe his own trying to find a conviction that would make sense of the chaos around him? I really don't know. And I cannot recall having read much about this period in his autobiography...but then this is probably worth a re-visit.
BrokenTune 3 years ago
Also, re Finland, the place the MC goes to is not quite clear at the start of the book, she gets off the boat in Sweden, I believe, then travels on to Finland, but it isn't discussed in great detail - one moment she is in Sweden, then next they are talking about Finland.
Maybe he had originally toyed with Sweden as the setting? It would not have had the same "remoteness", tho. As we know, Sweden was a more popular destination for emigrants...Brandt, Tucholsky,...
Where in Finland (and Sweden) is this set?
BrokenTune 3 years ago
As for the question of principles, I agree with you, it makes complete sense for him to take the stance that the doctrine must be right at the time. This is where my issues with the book aren't about the author being illogical - he probably did believe in it as strongly and uncriticisingly as it comes across in the book.
To badly (mis)quote something from an Attenborough movie "one either was a communist or fascist, there was no middle ground".
It's certainly possible that this may have applied to Mann at this time.
I have no issue with Mann holding his own convictions. I have an issue with how he presents this to me as a reader who doesn't share his convictions. There is no persuasive argument there (at all) - in fact there is not even room for discussion - and the actions of the MC really don't inspire any sense of admiration.
BrokenTune 3 years ago
The town / village is not named.
Hmm. The area, then? What distance from Helsinki -- and in which direction from there?

And, agreed on the MC's actions / motivation -- I wasn't trying to excuse her, just trying to find a reason why Mann may have presented her the way he did. It very much sounds like he didn't even question whether there might be an approach that would have put people first, or whether such an attitude might have worked within his doctrine.
BrokenTune 3 years ago
Ah, nice find!
(Not sure if someone should tell the author that the picture marked as Erika is actually A. Schwarzenbach... who isn't named in the article).

Yeah, Pekkala gets mentioned in the introduction or rather the afterword, too, but there is nothing by way of description or directions in the actual text of the book that would give away the location of the setting...other than a vague reference to being only hours away from St. Petersburg.
Judging by the contents of the article, Mann seems to have had little choice in not naming the place (or making any other references that would give more precise clues to "who, where, and why") -- they seem to have made it quite clear to him that any identifiable reference would land him in hot water.

And, yeah, that photo ... ah well, he sourced it but he didn't double check the verifiability of his source, I suppose! :)
BrokenTune 3 years ago
The book actually works without naming the place. It kinda makes sense that this place of refuge is the unidentified "somewhere up north".
I imagine it would, yes. -- I'd just been wondering about the Finland -- Sweden and back again thing -- in light of that, it would have made sense if it had been set in the Southwest of Finland, which used to belong to Sweden and is a Swedish enclave to this day.
BrokenTune 3 years ago
Hmm,.... maybe I got confused. Maybe she did get off the boat in Finland, but I definitely remember a mention of Sweden and people speaking Swedish, which was very odd (in that these seemed to be the only references to a specific country for much of the first part of the book).
People speaking Swedish would fit -- Finnish is now mandatory in that area, but for the longest time fluency in Finnish wasn't guaranteed at all there. Many people from Swedish speaking families would only speak Swedish. (There's another, similar area a bit further up north, towards the middle of the Finnish / Swedish border).

BrokenTune 3 years ago
Oh, it fits, but it doesn't work well when the author decides to - on purpose - describe the place with anonymity, then insists it should be Finland, but throws in references to Sweden. While speaking Swedish makes sense in terms of the actual place, it doesn't in terms of the book.
BrokenTune 3 years ago
It just wasn't a great book.
BrokenTune 3 years ago
Not even a good one.
Damn. :( Oh well ... next!
BrokenTune 3 years ago
Indeed! Revisiting Macbeth, then on to Harriet Walter's book about the play. :)