Review: Punainen viiva by Ilmari Kianto (Eng. The Red Line)

HARDCOVER; 174 P.
OTAVA, 1970/1909
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly. 

Ilmari Kianto’s (1874–1970) The Red Line was published in 1909 and depicts the time of the first universal and equal vote in Finland in the beginning of 20th century. The story is set in the rural community of Eastern Finland and it centers around a couple, Topi and Riikka, who try to understand the unravelling events of the approaching vote and the promises of social change that it might bring. The novel offers an insightful look into the minds of the poorer classes of the early 20th century and its characters have settled their place in the literary canon of Finland. This edition features the cover that was designed for the first edition, but never used due to the strong controversy of the topic.

For a long time The Red Line was a title that I instantly recognised as one of the Finnish classics but had no idea what the book was about. And had it not been for a paper that I’m currently writing, it would have stayed so for a few more years. Because of the political issues discussed in the book and the fact that it was published only two years after the first universal vote, it was considered rather controversial.

The Red Line begins with a beautiful description of the forest in the autumn, from the perspective of a great bear. As the bear falls into hibernation, we enter the small cottage of Topi and Riikka Romppainen and their small children who prepare for the upcoming winter with the dread that what they have might not be enough. As the winter sets in, their fears are realised and Topi has to travel to the closest village to sell some of their valuables to buy food for the family. However, as he arrives to the village, he is struck by the notion that something strange is afoot. The workers and farmers are holding meetings and reading the paper aloud. Topi is soon told that an election is arriving and there is a rumour that, for once, the poor will have a voice. When Topi return home, Riikka dismisses the news as village gossip but is soon proved wrong as politics comes knocking on their own door. As winter turns into spring the visitors of the small cottage tell of change that could turn their world upside down.

SO SO GOOD. This book had me hooked from the very beginning and I couldn’t believe I had ever not wanted to read it. The Red Line seems to have everything: complex narration, symbolism, beautiful description of nature, interesting language, heart-wrenching story but with an occasional glint in the eye. The red line of the title symbolises the voting process in which voters had to draw a line next to the candidate that they were voting for – with a red pencil. Simply reading about the two main characters anxiously preparing for this moment, the moment of drawing the line, was at the same time so strange and so empowering. The author has truly captured something very pure and raw about the people and the time. The Red Line isn’t a historical document per se, but it provides an insight to the history of Finland in a way that opened my eyes. In order to catch the references, you do need to understand the history of Finnish independence, but I’m sure it could also be read without the background information. The Red Line is definitely one of my new favourites! So if you ever do have the chance to read this, please do!

5/5

The day of the red line was fast approaching. The printing machines pounded on and on. Red letters whisked like fiery dragons across the country; biting till blood, lighting the spirit aflame.

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