A hardy schoolteacher takes on a job at a remote island school where nothing transpires to be as it is in this crystal-clear novel about survival by one of Finland’s most acclaimed and beloved writers today.
Nobody comes out of this life unscathed. The only thing that can take us by surprise is the way each of us will be broken.
It’s 1947 when aging school teacher Elna Suorajärvi takes on a teaching position at a remote school close to the Soviet border in northern Finland. The school is on an island, accessible only by rowboat in summer and on skis in winter.
On landing on the island with her few, worldly possessions, it transpires to Elna that nothing is the way it should be: the school is a dilapidated barracks abandoned by the Germans, her pupils are traumatized from the war, and a debilitating illness ravages her tired body. However, the resilient Elna gets on with teaching —the only way of life she knows—even in the freezing winter, when she resorts to teaching from her bed in the classroom. The solitary nights invite disturbing thoughts about her estranged, abusive sister and scarred family history. But after the long winter must come the respite of summer.
Throughout the powerful narrative spanning a school year, we hear Elna’s unforgettable, deeply humane voice and her resilience and survival, observed with Kinnunen’s psychological acuity.Through Elna, Kinnunen also paints a portrait of the soul of a nation in the postwar, reconstruction era with his hallmark concision, eloquence and sparks of wit.
DARK MOONS confirms Kinnunen as a masterful storyteller whose power lies in the voice-driven, delicate depiction of the human condition and in his wise, compassionate and insightful narration. This new novel deepens his mastery in portraying remarkably strong women whose voices are not heard in history or textbooks.
English Sample Translation 40 pp
Nominee, Botnia Prize (the winner will be announced in October 2023)
“Kinnunen is interested in the narratives to be found in the shadow of the broad arc of Finnish history. Dark Moons is a piece of this history, told through the resilient female main character.” — Helsingin Sanomat newspaper
“…reliably rough and sensitive prose.” — Helsingin Sanomat newspaper
“Dark Moons is a more relaxed narrative than its predecessor and thus more interesting.” — Helsingin Sanomat
“Dark Moons is once again a solid novel by an author who makes literature seem easy in the best possible sense.” — Helsingin Sanomat
“Tommi Kinnunen, having opened up about his own exhaustion, has written a novel about the tribulations of a teacher in the 1940s, so this novel feels timely”. — Helsingin Sanomat
“Kinnunen’s arresting narrative is both warm-hearted and open-minded. The author touchingly describes the struggle of a lonely woman against bureaucracy, the education system and the people who become her enemies. (…) Dark Moons is one of those historical novels that have a real connection with the present day.” – Satakunnan kansa newspaper
“Dark Moons is the survival story of the stubborn and persistent Elna. Beginning in August 1947 and ending in the following June, it shows how destructive war always is, also for women and children.” — Kainuun Sanomat newspaper
“Kinnunen skillfully builds a bridge from post-war Finland to the present day.” — Kainuun Sanomat
“…poetically beautiful, warm-hearted and layered.” — Kainuun Sanomat
“Tommi Kinnunen uses the phrase in many ways, subtly. At the same time, he writes concretely, descriptively, subtly and in clear sentences. Kinnunen’s language makes for enjoyable reading. — Karjalainen newspaper
“A fascinating story written in beautiful language.” – Salon seudun sanomat newspaper
“…a weighty, beautiful novel.” – Keskipohjanmaa newspaper
“Kinnunen subtly yet frankly describes exhaustion, forbidden feelings and answering to the demands of others.” – Suomen kuvalehti magazine
“Successful moments of teaching and nature bring joy. However, Kinnunen doesn’t build his protagonist into a fatigue-defying survivor. Beautiful and touching, Dark Moons takes place in the past, but it is also a topical narrative about coping at work.” – Suomen kuvalehti
“The work is a skillfully limited and intimate description, where the reader gains a rare, deep insight into the soul of the person inside.” — Suomen kuvalehti
“The smoothly moving story holds its grip, because Kinnunen hooks the reader at the very beginning and skillfully all along the way.” — Bookish literary blog
“Kinnunen has written a deeply convincing portrait of a woman, the challenges of the teaching profession after the war, and the status of female teachers.” – Book literary blog
“Tommi Kinnunen is great at interpreting the pain of the soul and its causes.” — Kirjasähkökäyrä literary blog
“Dark Moons depicts the fragility of a lonely person and her frantic desire to fight for her existence and for human dignity.” – Kirjasähkökäyrä
“Elna is an interestingly contradictory protagonist. (…) Dark Moons is a captivating story about the challenges of a female teacher in postwar Finland and an impressive contemporary depiction of the Reconstruction era taking place in burned-down Lapland.” — Kirjaluotsi literary blog
“A book with beautiful language that allows you to relax despite the difficult subject.” — Kirjapino literary blog
“The cherry on the cake is, of course, the language, which is wonderful. From the beginning, you can feel a special brightness to it. (…) Enchanting language.” — Kirjallisia literary blog
“Today’s reader will identify with Elna’s desperate circumstances as she approaches retirement age: difficult illness, no home, no savings.”— Kirja vieköön literary blog
Further media coverage/interviews
“If something similar [the war in Ukraine] happened in Finland, you and I would be old enough to know to deal with the crisis in the knowledge that it, too, will pass. We would always have an idea of what the world can be at its best. The situation with children is different. What kind of adults will they become if the very time when the child is supposed to acquire basic security is hellish? Can such a child ever grow up to be a whole human being?” — Tommi Kinnunen in interview, Kainuun Sanomat newspaper