Tove Jansson: Work and Love. Tuula Karjalainen

Book Review:

I received this book as a birthday gift from my brother in 2017 and read it then.  I decided to re-read it since I have been re-reading old favorites alternating with new books, and indeed, I try to buy only books I know I will re-read.  My first roommate in CA, CJ, was bewildered by this. She asked me quite seriously once why I didn’t throw books in the trash after finishing them, as she did.  To Indians, books are sacred-you simply do not “throw them in the trash after finishing them.”…..

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) was the much-loved Finnish author of the Moomin books.  As I grew up in England, I read the books at an early age-10 or so-have always loved them and own them all.  “Comet in Moominland” was the VERY FIRST book I bought for myself with my own pocket money!  However, my interest was significantly rekindled when, starting in 2016, I had the opportunity to visit Finland regularly for business.  

The Moomin books are less familiar in the US.  I know nobody who has read them – the more reason to spread the joy!!

The biography is one of two recently published.  I have not (yet) read the other.  It is an excellent overview of Tove’s life.  The things that were of most interest to me, since I was not aware of them growing up, were her vast output as a painter and the sheer range of her creative activities.  These encompassed oil paintings, frescoes, many still to be seen in Helsinki, the long running Moomin comic strips, one of which I saw as a child (“Moomin is Good”), books, short stories, writing for children and adults, theater, tv, film and much else.  I always loved her illustrations for the Moomin books, but it was also a great pleasure to see her paintings and other works.

I enjoyed the detailed description of life in Finland before and between the wars and during WW2, when Tove, not without risk to herself, illustrated the anti-Nazi political magazine GARM.  Most Americans have not much idea about Finland, a country with an interesting history, well worth getting to know better and to visit.  Tove was a Swedish-Finn, who, with Finnish-speaking Finns, and the Sami or Lapps, form the 3 main population groups.  All over Finland you see fortresses built by the Swedes or Russians and Russian Orthodox churches such as Uspenski Cathedral.  It is easy to get the ferry to Petersburg….. and the last time I was there, in 2019, I watched Putin’s state visit from the restaurant of the Hotel Kämp on Pohjoisesplanadi.

The funniest thing I noticed on this read was the absurd condemnation by the New Left of the Moomins as “ruthless members of the upper-class establishment”.

This sort of thing is why I have no use for politics by and large and nothing but contempt for much so-called political analysis, from either the L or R.  Tove was very much “Art for Art’s Sake”.  She did not have a political agenda.  She also illustrated the Finnish edition of “The Hobbit”, and in 2016 I received as a gift a beautiful calendar with those illustrations, which I saw then for the first time.  Her drawings are very different from those of JRRT or others, and have their own unique charm, which doubtless draws upon the Finnish epic, “The Kalevala”, a fundamental influence on Tolkien referenced all over Helsinki to this day.

S.Narayanswami 2021