Saturday, 1 July 2017

Akvarelleja Engelin kaupungista - Jukka Viikilä

'Onko arkkitehtia, joka kieltäytyisi kokonaisen kaupungin rakentamisesta, vaikka se nousisikin näin pimeään, kylmään ja syrjäiseen paikkaan?'

'Is there an architect who would refuse to build a whole city, even if it rose in such a dark, cold and isolated place as this?'

And also: how do you write about a book so intelligent and intellectual that you feel like you haven't lived long enough to match it?

I don't think there's many capital cities that have so prominently been designed by one architect, but this is only one of the many things that makes Akvarelleja Engelin kaupungista ("Aquarelles from Engel's City") so interesting. There's also the fact that the city Carl Ludvig Engel designed essentially didn't exist before his work commenced, for the little village had been burnt badly eight years before and was only made the capital four years prior to his arrival.

The reason this book was in my radar is very simple: it won the coveted Finlandia prize for fiction last year. That's like a Booker or Pulitzer prize for Finnish people. Honestly, I've never happened to read a winner before, but they're pretty highly valued books regardless. I was also interested in this because one of his buildings (the one in the picture) is about six kilometres my home (in an area where practically nothing exists, what are the chances of that?) I happened to come across this very luckily at my local library (not the big and fancy one), and I knew I just had to take the time to read it within the two week quick loan time.

Akvarelleja Engelin kaupungista is written like a night diary by the architect during his years in Helsinki, spanning from 1816, when he arrived, to 1840, when he passed away. Engel wasn't in love with Helsinki, by any means. He found it cold, uncultured and revulsive, even, and was always convinced that he would move back to Berlin once his job was done. Regardless, the work he did on the city shaped a lot of how it looks today.

The book is incredibly poetic. The thoughts expressed are very beautiful but they never feel fake or pretentious. I found it exquisite. This is obviously because while this is Viikilä's first novel, he's previously released two poetry compilations. What's also apparent is that lots and lots of work have gone into this. It's steeped in history and notes actual things that happened and how Engel might have reacted to them. The buildings he made also pop up in real time and allow Viikilä to imagine how the architect might have believed it.

There's a lot I could tell you about the architect based on this book, and I think that's really cool. I must applaud the work of the author, and I'm happy to do so. Viikilä's primary source of information on the architect (of whom not much personal information exists, allowing for a book like this) were letters he wrote to his three closest friends.

I loved this book. I imagine not everyone would, because it is pretty poetic and cultural, but for me it was definitely a hit, and I don't think I would change anything even if I could. I think I'll work on finding a hardback copy of my very own. This is the sort of book that deserves to exist as a hardback, you see. If the author decides to write another novel, I'll be excited to read it.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 8: A book about Finnish history!

'Tämän olen oppinut suomalaisista: heille kaunein kukka on peruna.'

'This I have learnt of the Finns: to them the most beautiful flower is a potato.'

1 comment:

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