Chitambo

Throughout the lockdown, we will be making available a series of taster extracts from our new publication: Chitambo by Hagar Olsson, translated by Sarah Death. Chitambo is a classic of 1930s Finnish-Swedish literature, and we hope you enjoy these snippets. Copies of the book can be ordered from our website or via Book Depository.

Taster one: Macedonia proves too small for me*

As a girl the feisty protagonist of our new novel Chitambo feels trapped in a traditional domestic role and can only escape into the tales of seafaring adventure and polar exploration with which her father eagerly feeds her. David Livingstone is her hero in the jungle of life. As she approaches womanhood, the whole beautiful and challenging world of Helsinki, the archipelago and the Finnish countryside open up to her. This classic of Finnish-Swedish 1930s literature will definitely transport you to pastures new. Recommended reading in these times of limited mobility.

* The chapter heading featured in this taster is in all probability a reference to the admonition of Alexander the Great’s father: ‘Seek another kingdom, my son, that may be worthy of thy abilities; for Macedonia is too small for thee.’ The episode is reported by Plutarch in his Lives.

Taster two: My soul is troubled by contradictory names

The protagonist reflects on her unconventional childhood.

*This could be a reference to Luís Vaz de Camões’s epic poem Os Lusiadas (The Lusiads, 1572), which describes Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama going ‘through seas never before sailed’.

* ‘The Three Graves on Beechey Island’ is an illustration of the last camp of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, from which he set out in 1846 to his death.

Taster three: Uncle Eberhard

In which we vicariously experience freedoms – a ride in a cart through the countryside! – not currently possible at the time of updating this blog, in the lockdown period of April 2020; and the reader is introduced to the wonderful Uncle Eberhard.

Taster four: A trip to the theatre

In which our heroine visits the theatre – a distant memory for many of us in these lockdown days of livestreams only! – and reflects on the position of women in society.

* Ida Aalberg (1857-1915) was the leading actress of her age in Finland and also performed abroad. The play Vega attends is Henrik Ibsen’s Et dukkehjem (A Doll’s House, 1879). The lines quoted are from the final act and the edition used here for the English-language versions is A Doll’s House and Other Plays, transl. Deborah Dawkin and Erik Skuggevik, Penguin Classics, 2016.

*The Finnish Women’s Association (in Swedish: Finsk kvinnoförening; in Finnish: Suomen Naisyhdistys) was founded in 1884 and was the first women’s rights organisation in Finland.

*Sewing circles had an important role to play in securing women’s suffrage in Finland. Maria Lähteenmäki and Ellen Rees, among others, have pointed out that Finnish women learned the basics of organisational work in temperance and workers’ associations, and members of small women’s groups across the country eagerly practised the conventions and procedures of meetings. Women also became accustomed to association work in sewing circles and drama and speech clubs, these activities providing a cover for political activism.