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New Finnish Grammar

Author: Diego Marani

Translator: Judith Landry   Cover design: Marie Lane  


My name is Petri Friari, I live at no. 16 Kaiser-Wilhelmstrasse, Hamburg and I work as a neurologist at the city’s university hospital.

I found this manuscript on 24 January 1946 in a trunk in the military hospital in Helsinki, together with a sailor’s jacket, a handkerchief with the letters S.K. embroidered on it, three letters, a volume of the Kalevala and an empty bottle of koskenkorva. It is written in a spare, indeed broken and often ungrammatical Finnish, in a school notebook where pages of prose alternate with lists of verbs, exercises in Finnish grammar and bits cut out from the Helsinki telephone directory. Some pages are illegible, others contain just sequences of words without any apparent logic, drawings, foreign names, and headlines taken from the “Helsingin Sanomat”. Often the narrative proceeds by way of scraps cut out from newspapers, repeated each time a similar situation occurs, and fleshed out by others, in a wide variety of linguistic registers. My knowledge of the facts which lay behind this document has enabled me to reconstruct the story that it tells, to rewrite it in more orthodox language and to fill in some of the gaps. I myself have often had to intervene, adding linking passages of my own to tie up unrelated episodes. Adjectives left in the margins, nouns doggedly declined in the more complex cases of the Finnish language, all traced the outlines of a story which was well-known to me. In this way I have been able to coax these pages to yield up something that they were struggling in vain to tell. Using the scalpel of memory, I carved out words which ached like wounds I had believed to be long healed. Since I bore witness to many of the events and conversations recorded here, I have been able to piece them accurately together. In this I was greatly helped by Miss Ilma Koivisto, a nurse in the military medical corps who, like myself, was personally acquainted with the author of these pages.

The reader should not take this document as a reliable account of historical events, nor expect it to obey the laws of scientific observation. All it does is to tell one incredible human story. Twenty-eight years after having fled Helsinki, I had gone back, my sole reason being to track down the man who, as a result of a cruel misunderstanding on my part, had been unintentionally driven towards a fate which was not his own. But all that remains of him is this exercise book. Plagued with remorse, I set myself to unpicking the jumbled skein of this manuscript, feeling that the least I could do was to honour its writer by ensuring that he was remembered, and also perhaps to reconstruct my own story, my own identity, through other eyes. But it was many years before I could bring myself to offer these pages to the public (together with the annotations I added at the time), before they vanished, and me with them, once and for all. If there is no denying that it was my error which led the author of this manuscript to his tragic end, may I not at least plead the exceptional nature of the times as some excuse? The extreme uncertainty of those wartime days, when I was surrounded by death and suffering, caused muddled emotion to prevail over lucid reason, despite the fact that reason has so often served me well. At times, fate makes us the instrument of its designs, dragoons us into becoming unwitting accomplices in its savagery. Like this man, I too am an exile. But while he felt affection and gratitude for Finland, I have unfinished business with this country. Throughout all these years, I have tried to suppress my hatred for whoever it was who killed my father. Resisting the siren call of revenge, I have always sought to cherish the memory of the country which, after all, is still my own; I have kept up and cultivated my language, making each word a prayer with which I hoped to seek forgiveness for my father and, for myself, the promise of return.

And all to no avail. Time has sent shards of rancour through the clefts of my being, and it is these foreign bodies which shape my feelings: they take on monstrous form the moment they are born. Everything within me bears their mark, and redemption is no longer possible. My country continues to reject me, to fend me off, accusing me of yet another crime: that of having set the author of these pages on a mistaken course, thus wreaking his destruction.

Upstanding men, men of integrity, may serve as witnesses that what I did I did in all good faith. If doctor Friedrich Reiner had found the handkerchief with the initials S.K. even a day earlier, the fate of Massimiliano Brodar would have been different, as would my own. One fine June day, when the smell of the sea is borne along the city streets, making every white building a sailing ship, I might have gone back to Helsinki, ready to forgive in order to be forgiven. But perhaps a hostile God had already settled everything, and Massimiliano Brodar is merely an instrument of my damnation.

1. Return to Helsinki

Doctor Friari’s eyes were the first living thing I saw emerging out of nothingness. Preceded by a rustle of starched cotton, he appeared before me, haloed in blue, and stayed there for a time, watching me carefully. But the shifting blur of my disturbed vision prevented me from making out the outlines of his face. It was as though everything were bathed in a dense liquid, which slowed down movement and deadened sound. What followed were days when nothing seemed to move, whose surface was barely rippled by muffled voices, shadows behind glass, long silences somehow tinged with yellow. I tried to keep my eyes open for as long as possible, to blink away the misty blur so as to see the doctor looking at me. But even the briefest effort was promptly rewarded by a sharp stab which caused me to close my eyes again. I could feel the pain welling up from behind my temples, buzzing and swelling like a swarm of bees before settling behind my eyes. Sometimes a sudden wave of warmth would sweep over me; then I would sweat and feel my head throbbing beneath the bandages. The nurses must have noticed, because suddenly a glass bubble would appear beside me, and something cold would be applied to my arm. Then gradually the stabbling pains became less frequent, and things around me began to take on greater solidity. The blue halo became a porthole, the long silences were now less tinged with yellow, and the darkness was lit up by a night-light, screwed into a niche in the wall of the corridor.

So, I was on a ship. I could feel its slight pitching, though I could detect no sense of movement. I was aware that all was not well with me, but I saw and felt in a detached way, as though only a part of me were alive and sentient, and floating in something that was alien to me. As I recalled much later, in those days of gradual reawakening my brain was indifferent to my bodily state, as though it no longer had either the will or strength to bother with it. Now, before the doctor’s visits, two nurses would come to seat me on an armchair by the porthole. I had noted that they were Red Cross nurses, and even in my confusion I remembered that there was a war on. I also thought that I might be a survivor of some wartime operation. But I could not remember who I was, nor did I have the curiosity to do so. My thoughts seemed to well up out of nothingness and then sink down again into the porous soil of my unfocused consciousness. Later on, I thought back to that sensation almost with regret. For just a few, marvellous days I was untouched by memory, free from recall, released from pain. I was just a bundle of cells, a primitive organism like those which peopled the earth millions of years ago. From my chair I could see the other side of the cabin, my camp bed, the bedside table. And above all, even if it was an effort to turn my head, I could see the sea beyond the porthole. Making it to the chair must have been a great step forward, because now doctor Friari would smile when he came to visit me. He would shine a light into my eyes and examine them, easing them open with his fingers. He would bring down the little folding table fixed to the wall, lay out coloured cardboard shapes on it and ask me to say what they reminded me of. He always seemed very pleased with my reactions, and would jot things down in a notebook.

At first, our meetings took place in silence, taking the form of a dance of movements, courteous gestures and affable nods. After a few days, doctor Friari began to talk to me, but using words that were different from those he addressed to the nurses – ones with rounder, more full-bodied, lingering sounds. I was as yet unaware of the tragedy that had befallen me, I did not know that the trauma of which I was the victim had debarred me from the world of language. My mind was a ship whose moorings had been shattered by a storm. I could see the landing stage bobbing not far off, and I thought that as I regained my strength I would be able to reach it. What I did not know was that the wind of desperation would carry me ever further out to sea. I could not understand the words that doctor Friari spoke, nor did I feel any instinct or desire to answer him. But this did not worry me. Without really thinking, I put all this down to the wound I had sustained, to the immense tiredness from which I was gradually recovering. Furthermore, though only in the vaguest possible way, the hazy notion of a foreign language was surfacing in my mind, and this, as far as I could see, would explain why I failed to understand the doctor’s words.

As I learned later, right from those early days, the doctor was speaking to me in Finnish, his own language, which he believed also to be my own. He hoped that the soft, welcoming words of my mother tongue would soothe my pain and lessen my bewilderment, making me feel that I was among friends. I did not try to talk because I simply did not feel the need. All linguistic feeling, all interest in the word, had died away. I could not speak any language, I no longer knew which was my own. But I was unaware of this: a subtle veil, like a form of hypnosis, was shielding me from the violent colours of reality.

One morning doctor Friari opened up a map of Europe on the table and gestured to me to do something I could not understand. I thought that this was some new exercise and set myself to observing the green and brown patches, the jagged indentations of the blue sea, the deep furrows of the rivers. I knew that this was a map, the shapes of the countries meant something to me, I had already seen them on countless occasions. I had a clear idea of the things that I was seeing, but my understanding seemed trapped just below the outer skin of reality. I recognised those outlines just as I did every other object around me, but I could not put a name to them. My mind jibbed at any effort in that direction; as I noted later, it was as though it no longer had the tools to do so. My body, my hands had begun to move again. The movement of my joints gave me the sensation of having a body. I would lay hands on everything I saw: by touching things I would regain some knowledge of them. But my mind no longer knew how to link words and things; detached from me yet alive within me, it moved around without my being able to catch up with it, like a fish in a tank apparently expanded by the water and the glass, so that the edges too seem far away even when they are near. So I no longer knew what I was supposed to do with that map.

By way of encouragement, the doctor pointed a finger at a stumpy green strip fretworked with blue. I looked first at his eyes and then at the map, frowning in a state of growing confusion. Then at last I understood, Of course, the doctor wanted me to show him where I came from. Reassured, I gave a polite smile and lifted my finger, casting my eyes on the map. It was then that I felt my blood run cold. It was like leaning over the brim of an abyss. I recognised the shapes carved out on the map by the red scars of the frontiers, but I no longer knew what they were. The capital letters straddling valleys and mountains meant nothing to me. France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Rumania wandered around my mind as outlined shapes, but I could no longer put a name to them. Mentally, I could reach the threshold of those concepts, but then could find no handle to gain access to them. It was chilling to discover that half of my mind was clearly not under my control. It was as though the blood which should have bathed my brain had been left blocked in some distant and obstructed artery. When I tried to grasp them, ideas that seemed perfectly straightforward simply melted away before my powerless gaze. Even the letters, which I thought I knew one by one, which I had the feeling I could write without difficulty, had now become signs without sounds, mute hieroglyphics from some vanished civilization.

Then, urgent as a desire to vomit, I felt the sudden need to speak. Once again I had that feeling of obstruction. My head was spinning and I felt a shower of stabbing pains swarming behind my eyes like sparks. I opened my mouth, hoping to produce some sound, but all that came out was a gasp of air. I realised that my tongue, my mouth, my teeth were incapable of coherent speech. The air passed from my throat to my palate only to dissolve into a forlorn sigh. The horror of that dreadful discovery rooted me to the chair which I was clutching, my nails digging into its painted surface. I stared at the doctor in wide-eyed terror, hoping for help. My head was seized by the familiar swarming feeling, followed by the usual stabs of pain. I was prey to a fear such as I’d never known. I felt that I was sinking, losing all contact with the outer world. Here and there things seemed to be fading from sight, as though the faint glow lighting up the last narrow passageway between myself and reality were dying out. The doctor tried to conceal his dismay; he turned the map this way and that, keeping his finger pointing towards the outline of Finland. He let slip the odd word, an exclamation he repeated several times: for me these were just sounds, which I could hear but could not understand. For a moment, his expression seemed to betray the perplexity of someone who finds himself having to deal with a madman. The nurses rushed towards to take me back to bed. Once again I felt something cold against my arm. The doctor stayed beside me until I fell asleep.

I opened my eyes again perhaps an hour or so later, too exhausted to panic and too stricken to go back to sleep. The night-light in the corridor was flooding the walls of painted sheet-metal with yellow. The pitching, the black porthole, everything conspired to make me feel as though I were sinking slowly into a whirlpool, into a dark and cold abyss, peopled by monstrous fish. I felt weak, numb, unable even to cry. It was pitch-dark, both inside me and out. Grinding my teeth, I marshalled such rage as I could still summon up, and swore wordlessly at a God who could not hear me.

The next morning, doctor Friari entered my cabin with a smile. The previous day’s dismay seemed to have been forgotten, and he gave me a confident look. Under his arm he had a bundle done up in wrapping paper, and now I saw its contents for the first time. It contained a blue jacket, the kind that sailors wear. The doctor opened the package on my bed and showed me a bit of cotton tape sewn into the inside of the collar, with two words with capital letters written on it. I could make out the letters, but I was unable to read them. Doctor Friari was looking at me closely, and his expression was clearly intended to be reassuring. He had now begun to speak, his finger pointing at the label on the collar’s lining. Stressing the initials, slowly he spelt out the words ‘Sampo Karjalainen’ with the metallic voice of an automaton. I tried hard to understand. I sensed that he was repeating what was written on the label. Standing in front of the porthole, he waved the garment before me, holding it by the shoulders. Thus taken hostage, the jacket seemed to take on a life of its own and struggle with the doctor, who had gone red in the face with effort. The sleeves flew upwards and then fell down again, as though inhabited by invisible arms, setting the buttons clicking. As though in some clumsy embrace, Friari passed his hands over the front of the jacket, looking for the pockets. He rummaged through one, then the other, and pulled out a folded handkerchief. This he opened up on the bed, letting the jacket fall to the floor. In one corner, embroidered in blue between blue lines, two letters stood out: S.K. I had no difficulty recognizing them: they were the capital letters of the name that appeared on the label. I could sense that the doctor was hoping for some reaction on my part. But, like the jacket lying on the floor, I too stretched out my arms in a helpless gesture, implying that I was beaten. My eyes were darting from the initials to the expectant face, the letters whirling in my mind, merging into a single indecipherable sign. Who was Sampo Karjalainen? Was I Sampo Karjalainen? Was that blue sailor’s jacket mine? Overcome by hopelessness, I took my head between my hands, then let it droop until my chin touched my chest. I saw the doctor’s shoes moving away over the wooden floorboards, then gliding towards the door. When I looked up, the blue jacket was still swinging slightly, now hanging from a hook in the wall.

I registered all the stages of that man’s awakening from his coma with the utmost care. His blood pressure and temperature as they slowly rose, the first dawnings of consciousness, his gradual recovery of movement, everything was entered in his patient’s file, together with the medicines I gave him. Even if I remember the order in which things occurred, much of what I wrote in those pages remains impenetrable to me. Often, adjectives and verbs follow one another in a succession of dry, bald words without any grammatical structure, stuck there like cut-out shapes. Rereading them, I could make some dim sense of them, I recognised the vague outlines of the sensations which that man felt and which I observed from the outside. I saw again the eyes which fixed me with such dismay, but I shall never be able to tell of the abyss from which they were surfacing.

A long time passed; the days seemed endless. Meanwhile I had recovered my sight. When they removed the bandages, I spent the whole afternoon looking at myself in the mirror screwed to the wall above the basin. At later stages, too, I often caught myself stealing a look at my reflection, trying to recognise myself. With the utmost caution, at times I would even venture delicately to feel the wound on the nape of my neck. But I was alarmed by the big hairless folds my fingertips would come upon amidst my ravaged hair. I skimmed over them with revulsion, as though touching my own brain.

With doctor Friari’s help, I had learned to whistle. This was a first step towards recovering my speech. The little military marches which I whistled were irresistible: indeed, I began to move in time with them. I spent whole afternoons doing the pronunciation exercises the doctor set me. Without understanding them, I had begun to utter my first words. As I began to learn more about my condition, I resigned myself and tried to cope with it with the means at my disposal. The doctor helped me to take my bearings in the sea of my unknown drowned consciousness. Thanks to him, I came to understand that I had a relatively extensive grasp of reality. From the windows of his office, where I would go each morning to work on my rehabilitation exercises, the doctor would point to some object in the landscape of the bay and ask me to draw it in his notebook. In this way I realised that I knew how a building was put together, how a lighthouse worked, how a ship was made. Doctor Friari would write the name of each object underneath the drawing and teach me how to pronounce it. I repeated the sounds I heard him say, hesitantly at first, then with ever growing confidence. They were becoming my words; I could repeat and read them on my own and, over time, I learned to put them together. Later, when I could answer the questions that were put to me, the doctor was able to map out my technical knowledge more accurately, asking me to give him information about the various images he showed me, sometimes by means of gestures. In other words, I found that I knew how a car functioned, that I could work a gramophone, use a monkey-wrench or screwdriver; furthermore, although I was unable to formulate it very precisely, I found that I was also in possession of a certain amount of nautical knowledge. My brain responded to the proffered stimuli, the current was getting through; It was just the switch of language which failed to function. But the emergency lead installed by doctor Friari gradually made good this deficiency; however temporary and prone to leaps in voltage, it nonetheless managed to fuel my gradually redawning consciousness. My memory, on the other hand, was still shrouded in darkness, and no amount of seeking the point at which it had short-circuited would yield results. Of the flow of events which the doctor put before me with the help of photographs, maps and flags taken from his books, none served as an anchor for my identity. Here everything became a blur, slipping away as though shut off by clouded glass.

Accompanied by a nurse, I had begun to venture out on deck for the occasional short stroll, walking the length of the ship, holding on to the taffrail. Once I had reached the stern, I would sit down in the sun, facing the blue sea which for so long I had glimpsed only from the porthole. Later, I would learn that I was on board the German hospital ship Tubingen, riding at anchor off the Italian port of Trieste, waiting to unload its cargo of wounded so that they could be transferred on to Red Cross trains headed for Germany. On sunny mornings the distant city, dotted with green domes, seemed to be set upon rows of glittering waves, and I took pleasure just sitting and gazing at it. I felt reassured by that expanse of limpid water, that ordered countryside. On deck I also met other soldiers, thin-faced men with an absent air about them. All had some bandaged limb or were more or less obviously maimed. Some dragged themselves along leaning on makeshift crutches, which they still handled clumsily. Others seemed physically unimpaired, but on closer inspection turned out to have a bewildered look that was scarcely human. They gathered together in small groups, on the more sheltered benches, playing cards, chatting, or staring wordlessly into the distance, taking the odd puff of a cigarette. I tended to steer clear of them, since I myself had nothing to contribute. But when I caught some snatch of conversation I would eavesdrop, trying to make sense of the words I heard them utter. I would single out those I could hear most clearly, those they seemed to pronounce most often, and move away in order to repeat them aloud to myself aloud. But those unknown sounds would echo emptily in my mouth and head without leaving anything behind, like an echo dying away gradually. At an unconscious level I felt that they were not those that figured in the language spoken by doctor Friari. Even when I did succeed in reproducing them, they would melt away like bubbles without my being able to gain the knack of repeating them. I would go back to sitting alone, looking out to sea. But not even that majestic sight could calm my sense of dread. My gaze bore into the distance in the desperate hope of finding some foothold, some memory, some image which might miraculously bring the vanished part of me back to life.

Each morning after my walk, I would go to doctor Friari for my daily session. Petri Friari - a neurologist at the university hospital in Hamburg – was a German citizen, but originally from Finland. As I was later to learn, he had fled his native land many years earlier, when he was little more than a boy. At first I had difficulty understanding his story, even though he had told it me on several occasions, aided by that same map of Europe and every gesture he could think of. It was not clear to me why he had left, but I sensed that his departure had tragic overtones. But, as I gained in understanding, as words proliferated in my mind, I managed to piece his tale together.

During the years when Russia was being riven by revolution, Finland too was caught up in the maelstrom. Workers in the industrial centres rebelled, took up arms and set up a communist government. The country split into two and civil war broke out, with the white armies commanded by marshal Mannersheim emerging victorious after a long struggle. Once order had been restored, mercilessly repressive measures were taken against those who had sympathized with the Bolchevik cause. Doctor Friari’s father, a university professor with socialist leanings, was arrested and sent to a prison camp. After the terrible winter of 1918, no more was heard of him. So Petri Friari, then a young medical student, had left Finland with his mother to seek refuge in Hamburg, to stay with distant German relatives. There, in order to survive, he had become a jack-of-all-trades, making huge sacrifices in order to complete his studies. He had not been back to his country since the age of twenty-three. But he had never forgotten his language; nor his people.

Backed up against the railway, blackened by smoke, the Gothic building of the Finnish sailors’ church stands just outside the port of Hamburg, where the cranes thin out and the city dwindles away into grey countryside. There the doctor would meet up with fellow-Finns who had arrived by merchant ship; they would tell him the latest news, bringing him letters and newspapers. Every Sunday he would accompany his mother to mass, and spend some hours in the afternoon doing charitable work for the city’s small Finnish community, whose members he would treat free of charge. In exchange he received warmth, affection and the occasional bottle of spirits, but above all the opportunity to speak his language, and it was this that he most welcomed. This was why doctor Friari had taken such an interest in my case: the name embroidered on the label in my jacket was a Finnish name, and perhaps he saw my wretched situation as mirroring his own. I too had been unceremoniously flung out of my own country, and the language which the doctor believed to be buried somewhere in my damaged brain was also his. He cared for me and my wounds in the same spirit as he had tended to the sailors who frequented the church in Hamburg. During our sessions he would tell me about his past as though it were some sad tale whose ending he did not know himself, but which he enjoyed telling me, as though to ward off further misfortune. Welcoming me into his office, he would rub his hands as though in anticipation of some pleasant diversion. He would sit down and open his green notebook, which he constantly consulted as he told his tale, or questioned me.

Then he would show me pictures, different on each occasion, which were glued into his notebook or taken from some other book, and put names to them, asking me to repeat what he had said. The words he used were different from those I heard spoken by the soldiers on deck; at first I had difficulty pronouncing them; certain vowels I found particularly hard. But the doctor was wonderfully persevering. Later he told me that he himself was surprised at how fast I learned. A light dusting, a sprinkling of sounds had gradually settled on the smooth rock of my mind, becoming denser and more full-bodied over time. A rich, deep humus had formed, where words were now taking root and thriving. The linguistic memory which my injury had unrooted from my brain was being born afresh in another part of my mind, bolstered by reason but at the same time as spontaneous as a natural language. That was how the doctor put it, and indeed he was amazed that I could learn so quickly, drawing on mental resources which he had thought to be unsuited to the learning of a language. Secretly hoping to believe his own optimistic words, he ventured the fantastical hypothesis that my brain cells had tracked down the remnants of my language which lay scattered among the folds of my wound, and that the effort of learning had caused them gradually slowly to reknit, to take on shape and consistency. Some unknown chemistry was at work within me, new capillaries were branching out, bringing their juices to unexplored regions previously known only to the animal life of blood and flesh.

As he observed it, the doctor referred to this phenomenon as miraculous, and he took the greatest pleasure in all the stages of my progress. He noted down my reactions to his exercises in the greatest detail, together with the new words I was learning to use. He regarded my recovery as a personal triumph, a great step forward for science. But what he found most moving of all was the retrieval of a language which, in his own way, he too had kept safe within himself, ferrying it from exile into the seas of memory. Even though we could not engage in sophisticated conversation, and our dialogue consisted of single words, repeated to the point that they seemed almost to take on bodily form around us in the air, doctor Friari felt that in some abstract way we both belonged to the same world. We were bound together by some mysterious link, some bond which was not to do with blood, but which resonated in the sound of language. In the doctor it revived the sweetness of memory, and in me it aroused the will to live.

I had been picked up on the verge of death, my head badly smashed, at dawn on 10 September 1943, on the quayside near the railway station in Trieste. I was not carrying any documents or personal possessions. All that I had was the clothes I was wearing. I had probably been attacked and robbed, hit on the head with the lead pipe found beside me, still daubed with blood and hair. During those same days the hospital ship Tubingen had arrived in the port of Trieste from North Africa, and it was to this that the sailors who found me belonged. They hoisted me on to their lifeboat and took me aboard, where I was put into the hands of doctor Friari, a medical officer with the German navy. As he himself later admitted, in view of my serious condition, and the extent of my wound, he did not think that I had long to live; to the point, indeed, that he had not thought that it was appropriate to operate on me, so that he had accepted me on board the Tubingen for purely compassionate reasons, because of the name stitched into my jacket. But he immediately decided to have me transferred to the ward where the comatose wounded were admitted, and to keep me under observation in the recovery room. A large area at the nape of my neck had suffered deep lesions, and it was difficult to assess how much of my brain had been affected. But perhaps the doctor had sensed that something, somewhere within me, was still alive. As he later explained, clinically there was nothing to distinguish me from the other comatose wounded; whatever it was that had led him to tend me so meticulously, he saw as a nod from fate. As a man of science, practical and down-to-earth, he would come to see me each morning in the recovery room expecting to find me dead. When he saw that in fact I was making progress, he scented a miracle: from that moment on, he never left my bedside. The day I came out of the coma, the nurses swore that they had glimpsed a tear on one of his far from tender cheeks. He insisted on taking personal charge of my rehabilitation; each morning it was he who put me through certain exercises using coloured cardboard cut-outs. When he realized that I could not speak, that the injury had destroyed my memory for language and my ability to articulate sounds, he hoped in his heart of hearts that I would die. Surprised at the speed with which my brain was retrieving lost knowledge, at first he was intrigued above all by the scientific aspect of my injury. But he could not remain untouched by the fear, the bewilderment of a man part of whom had been taken from him, a man deprived of his past, his name, his language, obliged to live without memory, nostalgia, dreams. The supposition that I too was Finnish, having ended up for some unknown reason in those distant seas, led him to care for me with a devotion rarely met with by the wounded in a time of war.

In the weeks he spent at my bedside, peering into my eyes for the least sign of consciousness, he had become convinced that I must indeed be a Finnish sailor, who had come to Trieste on board some ship, possibly a German merchant man; that I had then been set upon by one of the sharks who hung around port cities and railway stations in those war-torn times. The name on the jacket and the initials on the handkerchief left him in no possible doubt. So he swore that he would move heaven and earth to get me back to my own country, to give me the chance to pick up the broken thread of memory. After all, the very fact that I was still alive was at least in part his doing, for better or for worse. He had put his scientific knowledge in the service of blind fate, while his heart had been won over by the familiar sound of my name.

I waited on board the Tubingen for many weeks. Various problems had delayed the organizing of the troop-trains to Germany. Now the ship was anchored in the port of Trieste. From my vantage point on deck I had noted frantic outbursts of activity on the shore and quays: military vehicles were arriving all the time, disgorging troops and weapons. When the wind was right, I could even hear the shouts of the commanding officers. Sometimes I would accompany the doctor to the station, where he would go to supervise the organizing of the troop-trains or to procure medical supplies. On those occasions we would have lunch together, in some little restaurant near the port. As we ate, he would encourage me to tell him about everything I was doing, every detail of my days, even the most insignificant. At first I found this tedious, then I understood what he was aiming at. It was out of these spots of time that I would rebuild myself a past, a memory. He laid great stress on the importance of persisting with this exercise. Though he had not yet told me as much, the doctor was already mulling over a plan to get me back to Finland, and was slowly preparing me to make the break.


RRP: £11.99

No. of pages: 187

Publication date: 09.04.2021

Re-print date: 30.06.2024

ISBN numbers:
978 1 912868 21 6
978 1 907650 77 2

World English
Rights sold; Australian & New Zealand(Text Publishers)