Leena Lander (born 1955) is one of the most notable contemporary Finnish authors. She does not shy away from exploring some of Finland’s darkest moments in history and turns them into beautiful, engaging pieces of literature.
Her most famous book (I think) is Käsky published in 2003. In this book she dares to investigate a period of Finnish history that has like no other scarred and divided Finnish society. Even my Finnish mother-in-law was told never to speak about the Finnsh Civil War and only Lander’s book made her face this event that had unhinged families – hers included. Käsky was so successful that it was turned into a movie in 2008; the English title of the movie is Tears of April.
Unfortunately, hardly any English translations exist of her work but if you are lucky enough to speak another language like me, you can find a German, Italian or Spanish translation of her work (probably more but those are the only ones I found). However, an English translation of her 1986 novel Lankeaa Pitkä Varjo exists and its English title is Cast a Long Shadow. I read the book in German like all the other books I read by Lander (I just bought another one about the Civil War and cannot wait to read it) and although I must say that it is not nearly as gripping as Käsky, it is worth reading it.
Cast a Long Shadow tells the story of Nils Psilander a 17th century judge on the now autonomous, demilitarised archipelago of Åland which is situated between Finland and Sweden. Åland is monolingually Swedish speaking but belongs to Finland. As mentioned the novel is set in the 17th century when both Finland and Åland were part of Sweden.
Nils Psilander’s task during this novel is presiding over various witch trials and over the course of the novel he starts doubting not only himself but also law, religion and the community, especially after he falls in love with one of the “witches”. However, if you hope for a nice romantic read with a happy ending then this novel is not for you. Lander is not famous for happy endings, probably because she is too dedicated to portraying the realism of Finnish history.
The most fascinating part of this novel are those few chapters in which the fictional writer of Psilander’s story can be found in her home arguing with her subject – Psilander. Psilander is like an apparition haunting her and at one point she ponders killing him off just to get rid of him. She even suggests he commit suicide. In spite of her repulsion towards her subject and her conviction that he is a despicable murderer she cannot help herself and lets him invade her life. She lets Psilander tell her his story and explain to her why he did what he did.
So, if you’re interested in history and/or psychology, I highly recommend you get a copy of Cast a Long Shadow and immerse yourself into 17th century Åland. It gives a good insight into the psychology of the time, the motivation behind the witch hunts, the impact of religion on law but also shows how a writer can be possessed by his or her topic with sanity and day to day life beginning to suffer.
Title picture of Kastelholm from http://www.visitaland.com