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First published in 1981, the story of Sonia O. continues to touch readers.
My blog was invited to participate in the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s 101 Books project in celebration of the centenary of Finnish independence. The purpose of the project was to choose 101 Finnish classics, the most significant book of each year of independence. The books to be reviewed by each blogger were selected randomly from among the works, and I was asked to read Sonia O. Was Here from 1981 by Anja Snellman (then Anja Kauranen).
I must admit that I was not overly enthusiastic at first, as books of hers that I had previously read had not made it to my favorites. Little did I know that with this one I had hit the jackpot.
WHEN FIRST PUBLISHED, Sonia O. Was Here was cited as the “boldest book ever written by a Finnish woman.” Today, nearly four decades later, “bold” still is a word that aptly describes the book. Its boldness lies in the way it depicts the growth and struggles of a young woman—her sexuality and emotional turmoil, her quest for roots and boundaries, her fight for freedom.
These continue to be themes that are not openly talked about. Even today, they are difficult topics, even taboos. This book discussed them 36 years ago. I am delighted to think of how the open, explosive female sexuality portrayed in the book must have stunned readers in the early 1980s. And I believe that this openness still comes as something of a shock to many.
While the book is a bold description of femininity, with a young woman finding words for her experiences, wants, and desires, it also impressively depicts second-generation immigrant identity and the growing pains, thoughts, and life of an entire generation.
THE BOOK PORTRAYS its era powerfully, offering insights into politics, art, music, and literature at the time, and the life of young people and their parents. The name-dropping, if you will, could be annoying in another context. In this book, however, the names and phenomena anchor the events in that particular era. Kekkonen, Waltari, Saarikoski, Marimekko, the Soviet Union, political associations, and punk bands, for example, are easy to instinctively associate with the 1970s and 1980s.
The book reflects the political atmosphere of the time and the impact politics had on people’s lives, as well as class differences, student life, and the small and self-involved cultural circles. Snellman writes about issues that interested, touched, and moved people back them. She captures the spirit of the 1970s so perfectly that it would be easy to place the events in that decade without any background information.
THE QUESTION IS: Can a book from 1981 still touch readers? Can it offer anything new? Is it still relatable? Yes, yes, and yes. I would not have believed that I would become a fan, but here we are. At the age of 27, Anja Snellman wrote a book that nearly four decades later makes me, at the age of 27, nod in agreement. I reflect on the same themes and issues—perhaps not in the exact same words, but still.
The song of feminism plays beautifully and joyously in this book. I would like to high-five the author: nearly 40 years ago, she did what many are still afraid to do. Excellent! If I were to meet her, I would tell her, “It takes a feminist to know one.” Here we are, in the same boat, heading toward stormy seas and wider waters.
Sonia O. Was Here is a successful inclusion in the list of 101 Finnish classics. According to the Finnish Broadcasting Company, the selected books were required to “capture the essence of the atmosphere and events in society at the time and inner changes experienced by individuals.” This book meets all these criteria while also being a perceptive, progressive, credible work of art. Definitely a classic, and for me a very pleasant surprise, a literary bull’s-eye.
By Katri, book blogger at Little Library
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